A series of media revelations about the Obama administration’s not-so-secret wars, culminating in a New York Times article about President Obama’s involvement in drone warfare assassinations, has led to widespread outrage on Capitol Hill, official Senate hearings and demands that the Justice Department appoint a special prosecutor to investigate.
Bizarrely, most of the ensuing fury has been targeted at the messengers, not the acts themselves. It’s the policy, not the leaks, that warrant scrutiny. Yet Republicans and Democrats in Congress, along with the Obama administration, have demanded that the leakers be caught and punished. Attorney General Eric Holder has appointed two US Attorneys to pursue separate criminal investigations to crack down on the leaks.
As we have pointed out, the drone attacks and assassinations violate many laws and allow the president to become judge, jury and executioner, without any checks or balances (see “Obama’s Kill List,” June 25). The attacks also breed new enemies with each strike. The potential for blowback is worrisome, as with the cyberwarfare against Iran (the United States is deeply dependent on computer systems and so especially vulnerable to cyberattack).
The threat is not primarily external, though; borderless perpetual war strikes at the heart of democracy. Forty years ago this June, the Nixon White House carried out the Watergate burglary, one act in a domestic espionage and sabotage campaign rooted in a zealous attempt to plug government leaks related to an unpopular war. We are now reaping the bitter fruit of a decade-long, bipartisan descent into another undeclared war. In its wake follow secrecy and criminality of all kinds, along with a determination to stamp out media attempts to report on government operations.
The Obama administration, which began by promising a new era of open government, has prosecuted more people for national security leaks than all previous presidents combined. Instead of prosecuting leakers, the administration should declassify the drone program. And instead of colluding in the suppression of leaks, Congress should reassert its constitutional authority over war powers, as Representatives John Conyers, Dennis Kucinich and twenty-four other House members have done in demanding more information on the drone strikes. It is impossible for the public to make informed decisions about these policies without a vigorous, open debate in Congress. And without that debate, there can be no check on arbitrary executive power.