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Obama Criticized On Drone Transparency By Former Aides

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Former administration officials are calling on President Barack Obama to be more transparent about the drone program. (BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images)
Former administration officials are calling on President Barack Obama to be more transparent about the drone program. (BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images)

Several former administration officials who are now out of government are criticizing President Barack Obama over the secretive nature of the U.S. drone program.

“The administration is hurting itself by a lack of transparency,” Harold Hongju Koh, who served as the State Department's top lawyer, said Thursday at a meeting of the American Society of International Law. "I''m not sure why a speech would not be given by the secretary of state on this subject, or by the president himself."

Koh's comments are notable because he has been a strong defender of the administration's drones program and was, for awhile, as the Daily Beast noted, the only official willing to speak on the record in public forums about the legal basis for the attacks. In 2010, he said that a "state that is engaged in an armed conflict or in legitimate self-defense is not required to provide targets with legal process before the state may use lethal force."

Anne-Marie Slaughter, the former director of policy planning at the State Department, called for Obama to be more transparent on drones.

"The idea that this president would leave office having dramatically expanded the use of drones -- including [against] American citizens -- without any public standards and no checks and balances ... that there are no checks, and there is no international agreement; I would find that to be both terrible and ultimately will undermine a great deal of what this president will have done for good,” she said, speaking at the same event as Koh.

In his State of the Union address, Obama promised more transparency on drones. But two months later, as the Washington Post has noted, the program has not become any more open.

Jeh Johnson, the former general counsel of the Defense Department, also said in a speech last month that greater openness about what the Obama administration is doing could help shore up public support.

"Our government finds itself in a lose-lose proposition: it fails to officially confirm many of its counterterrorism successes, and fails to officially confirm, deny or clarify unsubstantiated reports of civilian casualties," he said. "Our government's good efforts for the safety of the people risks an erosion of support by the people."

John Podesta chairs the Center for American Progress and led Obama's 2008 transition team. In a Washington Post op-ed on March 13, he called on Obama to release more legal documents on drones to Congress and the public.

"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 Obama is ignoring the system of checks and balances that has governed our country from its earliest days," he wrote. "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."

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