Let the secrecy wars continue

They're good for democracy

More than 10 years after the United States first used an unmanned aerial device to kill an al Qaeda militant, a discussion about the wisdom and applications of drone use is finally upon us. Actually, it's been about 10 years since the first senior American official bragged about such lethal strikes. The proximate cause, of course, is John Brennan's nomination to direct the Central Intelligence Agency. But the functional cause is years of work by the ACLU, civil libertarians, and the media. Even though the drone programs have been SILOs — Secrets In Law Only — the executive branch has fiercely and without rest resisted a debate. The executive branch has used the pretext of official secrecy to squash any informed discussion of the subject, even though another form of secrecy, the habitual unofficial custom that protects internal policy deliberations, is the precedent that they've aimed to protect.

It is also true that the cloak of secrecy surrounding drones has been successful in protecting the practice from the type of scrutiny that might have sawed off some of the harder edges of the program, or that would have resulted in modifications that make it more palatable to the world community. Americans, in general, support the idea of targeted drone strikes against bad guys, and I don't think that will change. The more they hear about the program as practiced, the more they might object. American troops are re-deploying rapidly. We are ending wars. Civil liberties debates are more fair when there is no perceived existential threat.

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