April 1, 2012  

Semi-transparent policy

TO ERIC HOLDER, for declining to make clear the law surrounding the killing of U.S. citizens.

The U.S. attorney general took a step toward transparency March 5 when he stated plainly that the government believes it may, without judicial review, order the military to kill American citizens suspected of being terrorists. But he failed at the more important task: to lay out how this ostensibly comports with the law. Essentially, the Obama administration is saying, “Trust us: This is legal.”

Leaving aside the corrosive effects of secret law on American society, it is not fair to ask the military — from the defense secretary down to trigger-pullers — to do their jobs amid legal murk. There are times when war, that most swift and complex of human endeavors, thrusts its participants unexpectedly into legal gray zones. This is not one of them.