When you're President Obama and you're lambasted by Clinton-era White House Chief of Staff John Podesta, it's far past time to give Congress the rules and justification for killing U.S. citizens without due process.
"Give them up, Mr. President," Podesta wrote in a scathing op-ed on drone warfare published in The Washington Post today.
Podesta is no Rand Paul, the libertarian GOP senator from Kentucky whose 13-hour marathon forced the secretive Obama administration to concede, grudgingly, that a U.S. president can't target American citizens on U.S. soil for drone attacks.
Podesta is not merely a journalist wondering why Obama has broken his promise to run the most transparent administration in history ("Secret Memos Expose Obama's Double Standard on Targeted Killings").
Podesta is chairman of the Center for American Progress, a liberal think tank that essentially is a shadow wing of the Obama administration. The group was a Democratic government-in-exile during the Bush administration and helped Obama fill thousands of political jobs in the federal government.
He knows his stuff. He knows Obama. He knows the stakes. "We cannot lead," Podesta wrote, "if the American people are kept in the dark."
Podesta methodically undercuts every conceivable argument against transparency.
"I say this as a former White House chief of staff who understands the instinct to keep sensitive information secret and out of public view. It is beyond dispute that some information must be closely held to protect national security and to engage in effective diplomacy, and that unauthorized disclosure can be extraordinarily harmful. But protecting technical means, human sources, operational details and intelligence methods cannot be an excuse for creating secret law to guide our institutions."
"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. 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."
This friend and ally of Obama practically begs the president not to remain on the wrong side of history.
"The American people have the right to know the laws they live under. In addition to allowing Congress to properly fulfill its oversight duties, the administration should make available to the public the criteria justifying the targeted killing of Americans and the safeguards put in place to protect against wrongful death."
"This level of transparency is important for our democracy and for governments around the globe. The United States is not the only country with drone technology. We are not the only country with the ability to deploy cyberweapons. We are not the only country grappling with how to apply the rule of law — and the laws of war — when the nature of conflict has changed dramatically, and in a short time."
Podesta's stern indictment ends with a reminder that March 16 is the birthday of James Madison, the founding father most associated with the requirement for transparency and accountability in government. "Mark it, Mr. President, by upholding the promise of openness and transparency you made in your State of the Union address last month."
Rand Paul couldn't have said it any better.