President Obama is apparently still trying to create the “most transparent administration ever.” In his State of the Union address on Tuesday night, his remarks appeared to reflect an awareness of just how impenetrable a black box his government has erected against inquiries on counterterrorism policy. And particularly on the “targeted killing” program that features drone strikes at suspected terrorists overseas.
Here’s the relevant passage:
That’s why my administration has worked tirelessly to forge a durable legal and policy framework to guide our counterterrorism efforts. Throughout, we have kept Congress fully informed of our efforts. I recognize that in our democracy, no one should just take my word for it that we’re doing things the right way. So in the months ahead, I will continue to engage 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.
That’s some fantastic wording right there. “Even more transparent,” in this context, appears to imply that the level of openness regarding the pursuit of terrorists is already considerable.
People who would have benefited from a robust presidential commitment to transparency spouted off on Twitter:
Here’s a measure of the transparency baseline from which the Obama administration is operating. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) filed a Freedom of Information Act request in January 2010, seeking the legal basis for the use of drones overseas in “targeted killings.” The request went out to several agencies; the CIA responded that it couldn’t “confirm or deny whether the CIA drone strike program even exists.” In a legal fight that went last September to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, the ACLU has argued that an array of “public statements and leaks” by administration officials amount to an affirmation that the program exists.
Just last week, NBC News published a 16-page Justice Department memo outlining the legal basis for drone strikes. And the administration allowed lawmakers on Capitol Hill to check over more sensitive drone-related documentation in preparation for the confirmation hearing of John Brennan, the president’s nominee for CIA director.
Journoskeptics are right to ask just what form this transparency will take. Will the administration just start giving FOIA’d documents to the organizations that have requested them? Will it chill on its zest for leak investigations? What other approaches to info-disarmament can the administration take? Perhaps we’ll find out.