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President Obama on the campaign trail: No comment on drones

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Politico reports on an Ohio local news interview with President Obama wherein the Fox 19 reporter asks about drone strikes. The President replied:

"First of all, you're basing this on reports in the news that have never been confirmed by me. And I don't talk about our national security decisions in that way," Obama said about the reporter's question.
"Our goal has been to focus on al-Qaeda, to focus narrowly on those who pose an eminent threat to the United States of America," Obama said.
But as Politico notes, the President himself acknowledged the targeted killing program in an online chat. Watch that uncomfortable exchange below.

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And President Obama isn't the only executive official to have publicly discussed the drone campaign. My colleague Nathan Freed Wessler writes:

In speeches and statements to the press, numerous senior government officials, including President Obama and Defense Secretary (and former CIA Director) Leon Panetta, have repeatedly discussed the agency's use of drones to carry out targeted killings. Most recently, Attorney General Eric Holder publicly defended the government's authority to target and kill suspected terrorists, including U.S. citizens, far from any battlefield and without judicial oversight. Many news reports have also quoted unnamed officials discussing the drone program.

Ever the Constitutional scholar, President Obama's silence on the drone strikes and the administration's kill lists (which reportedly include teenaged girls and US citizens) is probably an extension of the CIA's bizarre legal strategy to keep the program out of the courts. The agency says that the existence of the drone program is a state secret and thus cannot be confirmed or denied — a tricky maneuver deployed to ensure the legality of the drone strikes cannot be effectively challenged in court.

The US drone program is the worst kept secret in the history of the world. When forced to address the issue in public, government officials' comments, like those Obama made in Ohio, illustrate the disingenuousness at the heart of their legal arguments to keep it immune from judicial scrutiny.

Let's hope other journalists follow Fox 19's Ben Swann's lead and ask the President and other officials about the legality of the drone campaign. They will have many opportunities to do so over the next few days at the DNC.

Journalist Michael Tracey capitalized on the accessibility of high-ranking officials at the DNC when he saw Valerie Jarrett there the other night. She didn't appreciate his question and he was escorted away ordered to leave.

What is the government so afraid of? After all, sunlight is the best disinfectant.

© 2021 ACLU of Massachusetts.