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Life and death secrets no president should keep

In the divided world of American politics, it’s not easy to find an issue on which the legal affairs correspondent for the Nation and the former chairman of the American Conservative Union agree. But we’ve found one: the crucial importance of transparency in government, especially when the president claims the power to kill us without charges or trial, by directing the launching of a remote-control drone.

As this is Sunshine Week, a national initiative to promote dialogue about the importance of open government, what better time for the president to make good on his promise to lead the most transparent administration ever and tell us what’s up with the drone policy? President Barack Obama claims he agrees with us on transparency. Shortly after taking office, Obama issued a memorandum to executive branch departments and agencies claiming his intention to “create an unprecedented level of openness in government.” Transparency, the president explained, promotes accountability, encourages public engagement and furthers collaborative government.

But actions speak louder than words. For all these promises, when it comes to the most awesome power Obama has asserted thus far — the authority to kill American citizens and others without trial or charges — this administration has been anything but transparent.

It still has not even acknowledged that it killed Anwar Awlaki, a U.S. citizen who, according to news reports, was struck by a drone missile in Yemen on Sept. 30, 2011, after being on a White House “kill list” for more than a year. Obama apparently believes he has the power to kill U.S. citizens in secret. He has, according to reliable media reports, ramped up targeted killing far beyond that of any prior president. Yet his administration has resisted releasing even redacted versions of the 11 memos that we are told the Justice Department has drafted authorizing such killing.

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