11 Vital Questions for the Next President

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In a White House run, it ought to be disqualifying to withhold answers on critical national security matters

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Four years ago, The Boston Globe asked presidential aspirants to complete a questionnaire that plumbed their views on executive power. It is an indispensable resource for anyone intent on holding President Obama accountable to the positions he took during his campaign. As yet, however, those of us covering the 2012 primaries haven't gotten the contenders to commit themselves to anything so specific. I propose collaborating to get on the record answers from every campaign to the following questions:

1) Does the president possess the power to order American citizens killed so long as he or she first declares them enemy combatants? Is it legal for the Obama Administration to kill Anwar al-Awlaki?

2) Is the war in Libya legal? What is your understanding of the president's war powers? Absent an attack on America or the imminent threat of one, will you pledge to clear all wars with Congress?

3) If a suspected terrorist is captured by the United States, is it morally and legally permissible to interrogate him by strapping him down, covering his nose and mouth, and pouring water over those cavities to simulate the sensation of drowning?

4) Should the FBI be required to get permission from a judge before it puts a tracking device on the car of an American citizen? Should a warrant be required to listen to an American citizen's phone calls or to request information from their bank, phone company or Internet service provider?

5) If a CIA or FBI agent tortures a detainee in American custody should he or she be prosecuted for it?

6) Does an American accused of plotting a terrorist attack enjoy the same due process rights as citizens accused of other crimes?

7) In fighting terrorism, what are the limits of executive power? How do the judiciary and the legislature check the war powers of the president? 

8) Is the Obama Administration abusing the state secrets privilege?

9) Has the Obama Administration claimed any executive power that you think is unconstitutional? Be specific.

10) Since being signed into law has the PATRIOT Act ever been abused? If so, how? When was it last abused? And what will you do to prevent future abuses?

11) Should the American people assume that its government won't abuse power in the name of fighting terrorism? If so, why? If not, how should elected and appointed officials be monitored to prevent abuses?

I'll gladly publish responses from any serious candidate for the GOP nomination (or President Obama, should he desire to revisit these subjects). But I also encourage reporters on the trail and debate moderators to press pols for answers. If they ascend to the White House, their agenda on health care, the economy, and most everything else is going to filter through Congress.

Their views on these matters will likely determine policy.


Image credit: Reuters
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Conor Friedersdorf is a staff writer at The Atlantic, where he focuses on politics and national affairs. He lives in Venice, California, and is the founding editor of The Best of Journalism, a newsletter devoted to exceptional nonfiction.

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