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The opacity of hope

Shaaya Ellis | Tuesday, March 26, 2013

On April 16, 2009, the United States Department of Justice, at the behest of President Obama, released CIA memos that the Bush administration used to justify using enhanced interrogation techniques to solicit information that is vital to national security against suspected terrorists. The information provided in the memos was released with such detail that several watchdogs groups, including Cause of Action, lauded Obama for his campaign promise to achieve absolute government transparency.

Last week, a watchdog group, the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, one of the groups that praised Obama for his transparency, derided his administration for its lack of clarity with its drone policy. Jay Carney, Obama’s press secretary, perpetuated the hoax that the memos do not exist and described the memos as “alleged memos that simply do not exist” when asked about the drone memos.

On May 8, 2011, The New York Times reported the existence of the drone memos. The New York Times said these memos were written in 2010 followed by months of extensive interagency deliberations and offer a glimpse into the legal rationale of the most significant decision made by the Obama administration – to move ahead with the killing of an American citizen without due process.

This is a troubling aspect of the war with no end in sight. Even more problematic than what can be considered victory in the War on Terror is the importance of transparency in government, especially when a president asserts dictatorial powers and authorizes extrajudicial killings by directing the launching of a remote-controlled drone.

In order to get a direct and concise response from the Obama administration, Republican Senator Rand Paul from Kentucky took to the Senate floor and commenced with a nearly 13-hour filibuster. After the filibuster, Attorney General Eric Holder provided Senator Paul with a letter that clearly stated the United States could not kill Americans on U.S. soil without due process.

Under no circumstance should the killing of an American on United States soil be held up as classified information. While certain information that is collected by intelligence agencies and pertinent to the War on Terror needs to remain classified, the standards by which the United States government decides when to take an American life is not one of them. The mere fact that this administration is kept in secrecy when it come to the drone wars and extrajudicial killings should disgust all Americans the same way many were in uproar about Abu Ghraib.

The lack of transparency by this administration about drone strikes is staggering. Even after drone strikes were already being conducted and reported on around the world, former White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs was told by the Obama administration to act as if there were no such thing as an active US drone program – regurgitating the hoax that the entire project was completely nonexistent.

“When I went through the process of becoming press secretary, one of the first things they told me was, you’re not even to acknowledge the drone program,” Gibbs said last month on Chris Hayes’ morning show on MSNBC

Military action without a formal declaration of war and targeted killings without a letters of marque and reprisal undermine our system of checks and balances and should be grounds for impeachment. Obama made a promise to be the most transparent administration in history. Even upon taking office, President Obama claimed, “Transparency promotes accountability, which encourages public engagement and furthers collaborative government,” but with respect to t

he hundreds of drone strikes that have taken roughly 5,000 lives, he has left the American people in the dark.
The President railed heavily against the Bush administration’s use of enhanced interrogation techniques to solicit information that is critical to national security, but he goes on to expand the use of drones to kill people with no regard for the judicial process or the United States Constitution. With all the unconstitutional drone strikes throughout his presidency, it’s hard to believe that Barack Obama was not only a teacher of constitutional law but also a recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize in 2009, a feat not even Mohandas Gandhi accomplished.


Shaaya Ellis is a sophomore political science major with a classics minor. He can be contacted at [email protected]

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.