When American-born terrorist cleric Anwar al-Awlaki was killed in Yemen, it is safe to say few, if any, Americans shed a tear. The same can be said about former North Carolina resident and terrorist propagandist Samir Khan, who died in the same blast.
When a couple of weeks later, Awlaki’s 16-year-old son, Abdulrahman al-Awlaki, also an American citizen, was killed, it barely registered in the American press.
In less than a month, three American citizens were killed in strikes reportedly ordered by President Barack Obama. It is ironic considering that less than a year ago his administration was looking to prosecute CIA officials for carrying out enhanced interrogations of foreign terrorists who attacked America.
Editors Note: The End of Obama? Click Here Now
I do not have a problem with the deaths of traitors who align themselves with the enemies of our great nation, but I think we should all have a problem when the process that leads to the death of an American lacks transparency to our nation’s citizens.
By what legal authority does a president have the ability to target Americans for death?
As a former member of the so-called “Gang of Eight,” which includes the majority and minority party leaders of the House and Senate and their respective Intelligence committees, I was privy to America’s most tightly held secrets. I understand the need for secrecy surrounding many aspects of our counterterrorism efforts against foreign terrorists.
When it comes to how we treat our own citizens, however, the bar has to be set higher.
That is why I support the call by the Democratic chairwoman of the Senate Intelligence Committee for the president to declassify details of his counterterrorism authorities with regard to Americans.
In a free society uniquely governed by the Constitution and the rule of law, Americans must have this information. Otherwise, being an American and our fundamental constitutional rights start to lose their meaning.
Though I do not see this as a liberal or conservative issue, I have been disappointed by the cone of silence that has descended on the liberal left regarding this issue.
I remain utterly confused how people who could be so outraged at the Bush administration over enhanced interrogation used against a few foreign terrorists who participated in killing thousands of Americans can remain silent when it comes to the Obama administration killing American citizens without due process.
Where are the screams about abuse of executive privilege?
Far from being partisan, this is a constitutional issue. A president, an administration, a government that assumes that it has the authority to target its citizens for death should be required to explain to its citizens from where it derives this authority and how it will use it.
Editors Note: The End of Obama? Click Here Now
Now is the time for the Obama administration to provide the transparency that it promised. The president deserves credit for hitting al-Qaida hard, but along with his victory laps, he should provide answers to the American people.
Make no mistake about it. More Americans affiliated with al-Qaida will be killed. We as American citizens need to understand the authorities that make this possible and the protections to prevent these authorities from being abused.
As chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, I consistently argued for as much transparency as possible, many times with the support of my colleague and the committee’s top Democrat, Jane Harman.
For example, I pushed hard to get the Bush administration to release details about a Syrian nuclear reactor destroyed by Israel in 2007, including writing an Op-Ed calling for declassification that eventually led to this information being released to all of Congress and the American people.
Undoubtedly some aspects of the president’s counterterrorism authorities will have to remain secret — the fact that secrets exist in a democratic society is sometimes uncomfortable, but it is absolutely essential in a dangerous world. I can understand that the who, what, when, where, and how may all need to be classified, but the legal justifications as to why should be available for all Americans to debate and consider.
A few short weeks ago, a 16-year-old boy — an American citizen — died in the desert in Yemen. It does not matter that this was al-Awlaki's son. This was the death of an innocent. Seeing the young face of this child broadcast on Fox News gave me a moment of pause.
It was the death of an American that we should all stop to consider, for beyond its obvious sadness, it has broad implications for our nation, our constitutional values, and what we are willing to tolerate as the limits of the American presidency.
Former Rep. Pete Hoekstra, R-Mich., who was chairman of the House Permanent Committee on Intelligence, is a board member of LIGNET.com, a Washington, D.C.-based intelligence analysis and forecasting service.
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