From Attorney General Eric Holder's testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee last week, we learned that the Obama administration is "struggling" with how to provide more information on its so-called targeted killing program; that senior officials have "talked about a greater need for transparency" about the program; and that we "will hear the president speak about this" in the future. After a limited document review by the Senate intelligence committee; a spirited 13-hour filibuster led by Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., and a last-minute admission by Holder that the president does not have the authority to use drones to kill a U.S. citizen on American soil who is not engaged in combat, the White House is still bobbing and weaving on whether to share with Congress the legal opinions and memorandums governing targeted killing, which include the legal justification for killing U.S. citizens without trial.
The Obama administration is wrong to withhold these documents from Congress and the American people. I say this as a former White House chief of staff who understands the instinct to keep sensitive information secret and out of public view. It is beyond dispute that some information must be closely held to protect national security and to engage in effective diplomacy, and that unauthorized disclosure can be extraordinarily harmful. But protecting technical means, human sources, operational details and intelligence methods cannot be an excuse for creating secret law to guide our institutions.
In refusing to release to Congress the rules and justifications governing a program that has conducted nearly 400 unmanned drone strikes and killed at least three Americans in the past four years, President Barack Obama is ignoring the system of checks and balances that has governed our country from its earliest days. And in keeping this information from the American people, he is undermining the nation's ability to be a leader on the world stage and is acting in opposition to the democratic principles we hold most important.