President Barack Obama might have been otherwise occupied on Tuesday, but his White House erred in not sending representatives to the U.S. Senate’s first hearing on the use of drones for targeted killings.
Sen. Dick Durbin, an Illinois Democrat who chairs the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Human Rights, was right to be disappointed. He said “more transparency is needed to maintain the support of the American people and the international community.”
He’s right, and President Obama knows it, or should. Last January in his State of the Union address, he pledged greater transparency on his drones policy. “We must enlist our values in the fight,” he said. “In the months ahead, I will continue to engage with Congress to ensure not only that our targeting, detention and prosecution of terrorists remains consistent with our laws and system of checks and balances, but that our efforts are even more transparent to the American people and to the world.”
We’re reluctant to believe that this is another instance in which his actions fall short of his rhetoric, but he offers little reason to believe otherwise. The U.S. drone policy remains shrouded in secrecy.
That might be more understandable if drones were still the weapons of last resort against terrorists, as they were under President Bush. But that is no longer the case. Under President Bush, the United States launched 50 drone strikes. Under President Obama, the number has exceeded 400. Among the victims were several U.S. citizens, most of whose deaths were accidental. The U.S. citizen targeted and killed in a drone strike was Anwar al Awlaki, a U.S. born cleric and key al-Qaida operative in Yemen.
President Obama has insisted that the drone strikes comply with both U.S. and international law. If so, he ought to be comfortable outlining the legal framework and the rules under which the drone strikes are carried out. And given the growing opposition to the strikes in the United States and abroad — as well as his criticism of the Bush administration for what he considered excesses in the battle against terror — one would think President Obama would do so sooner rather than later.