Hope for More Transparency on Drone Strikes, But the Law is Still Secret

In a speech at the National Defense University on Thursday, May 23rd, President Obama discussed Congressional oversight of targeted killing with drones and the declassification of the deaths of four U.S. citizens killed by drone strikes abroad, including Anwar Awlaki. The speech broadly outlined the administration’s path forward on national security and its consideration of civil liberties, but made no concrete steps to shedding light on an increasingly opaque national security universe or the interpretations of the law that guide it.

While President Obama outlined the justification for the use of drone strikes, the Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) memos interpreting the law for targeted killing were not mentioned in the speech. The public deserves to have a clear understanding of the interpretation of the nation’s laws, especially when the result of those interpretations was the death of an American citizen. The Obama administration did, however announce new “Presidential Policy guidelines” to be used by the administration to authorize the use of strikes. The Associated Press references an unclassified summary of these policies —- this document should be made accessible to the public.

There are some questions about whether moving the drone program to the Pentagon will increase the drone program’s accountability to the public or lead to more secrecy in the program. Regardless of which agency controls the program, it is clear that the administration must be more transparent about the legal foundations, processes, and consequences of its actions conducted in the public’s name.

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