“The Obama administration does not intend to send a witness to testify at a Senate hearing next week on the legality of the U.S. targeted killing program,” McClatchy reports the White House as saying Wednesday.
The decision illustrates the limits of President Barack Obama’s pledge in his State of the Union speech on Feb. 12 to provide greater transparency into top-secret drone operations that have killed thousands of suspected terrorists in Pakistan, Somalia and Yemen.
…“We do not currently plan to send a witness to this hearing and have remained in close contact with the committee about how we can best provide them the information they require,” Caitlin Hayden, a National Security Council spokeswoman, wrote in an email to McClatchy.
The spokeswoman then declined to say why the President refuses to defend the legality of his drone war in a Senate hearing.
The administration’s intransigent refusal here emphasizes yet again that not only is the drone war itself secret, but it’s legal rationale is secret too. As Judge Napolitano put it bluntly, “How could a legal argument be classified?”
There isn’t any conceivable reason to believe making the legal rationale for the drone war public would unduly “reveal sources and methods.” Publicizing it could not possibly harm “national security.” Indeed, not even the National Security Council spokeswoman would openly make this argument; she simply refused to explain why the White House won’t testify to the drone war’s legality.
As US District Judge Colleen McMahon, who upheld the Obama administration’s ability to throw out legal cases by claiming disclosures would harm national security, said in her ruling, “I can find no way around the thicket of laws and precedents that effectively allow the executive branch of our government to proclaim as perfectly lawful certain actions that seem on their face incompatible with our Constitution and laws while keeping the reasons for their conclusion a secret.”
The leaked Justice Department memo that summarized the legal (if you can call it that) justification for the targeted killing program brazenly declared that even when there is no active intelligence indicating targeted individuals are carrying out a specific terrorist attack, the administration can drop a bomb on groups of often unidentified individuals.
Standard rules of international law demand that an imminent threat of an immediate attack is required in order to legally initiate the use of force in self-defense. But the Obama administration effectively rejects that stipulation, while refusing to allow any checks, balances, or transparency on the process.
Ben Emmerson, the UN special rapporteur on human rights and counter-terrorism, claimed further in March that drone war in Pakistan is illegal because it violates Pakistani sovereignty.
It is the fact that the drone war rests on a questionable legal basis – to put it generously – that Obama refuses to even publicize a legal opinion on it. If he were to make it public, it might face judicial scrutiny. And facing legal and public scrutiny when you’re engaging in criminal acts is the last thing you want.