“Now let me be clear: We are indeed at war with al Qaida and its affiliates. We do need to update our institutions to deal with this threat. But we must do so with an abiding confidence in the rule of law and due process; in checks and balances and accountability. For reasons that I will explain, the decisions that were made over the last eight years established an ad hoc legal approach for fighting terrorism that was neither effective nor sustainable…a framework that failed to rely on our legal traditions and time tested institutions, nor that failed to use our values as a compass.”
These are the words that President Obama used in a speech at the National Archives in May of 2009 to describe the Bush administration’s decision to use enhanced interrogation techniques on suspected terrorist prisoners.
These same words could easily be used by the president’s critics to describe his administration’s decision to use drone attacks to target suspected terrorists…who also happen to be American citizens.
When then Senator Obama was campaigning for the presidency he promised to ban the use of enhanced interrogation techniques; which he viewed as torture. He promised to stop the incarceration of suspected terrorists at Guantanamo without due process. He promised to “regain America’s moral stature in the world.”
And then President Obama…like all newly elected presidents before him…received his first President’s Daily Brief (PDB) and learned what a dangerous place the world truly is. Suddenly ideology gets a real cold dose of reality.
Clearly the hypocrisy between the president’s words in 2009 and his actions over the past few years is palpable. Those who have supported this president will undoubtedly be inclined to give him a pass. They are probably the very same individuals who called for Bush and Cheney to be indicted for war crimes. Reality has a way of changing one’s tune.
We understand that this president is presented with a list of targets that the CIA wishes to eliminate. We understand that this president has chosen to personally authorize each strike as a way of accepting personal responsibility and accountability for these life and death decisions. In a world where most politicians are more than happy to pass the buck for weighty decisions such as these, we find the president’s actions admirable. But while we applaud his willingness to accept responsibility, we are uncomfortable with the process of allowing one man to be judge, jury and executioner of American citizens. We need to know more. We don’t know what we don’t know.
Perhaps we will learn more today.
Today the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence will hold confirmation hearings on the nomination of John Brennan as Director of the CIA. Brennan is currently the chief counterterrorism advisor to the president and the chief architect of the administration's drone program. Undoubtedly he will be questioned about the administration’s decision to use drones to target US citizens who are suspected of engaging in terrorist acts against the country.
We are at war…and war is messy. Decisions are made at times of war that would not be made under normal circumstances. We understand that.
But we also believe, as Oregon Senator Ron Wyden said yesterday:
“Every American has the right to know when their government believes that it is allowed to kill them.”