Steve Chapman

The whole world always knew about the drone strikes, but the administration didn't even admit it was carrying them out until 2012. Obama also refused to publish the Justice Department "white paper" explaining the rationale for targeting U.S. citizens overseas for sudden, fiery death from the sky. The document came out when someone leaked it to NBC News, prompting the department to officially release it.

The white paper was based on a lengthy legal memo, but the president would not willingly expose that memo to the light of day. Recently, a federal appeals court ordered him to, concluding there is no risk of "disclosing any aspect of military plans, intelligence activities, sources and methods, and foreign relations."

The same can be said for Clapper's stonewalling on numbers. It's not as though the individuals targeted by missiles, or their families, would learn anything new from this information. The only point of secrecy is to let the government tell self-serving lies without fear of contradiction.

The CIA attested last year that the total number of innocents killed was in the "single digits," but a United Nations investigator determined it was over 400. A report by the Washington think tank CNA agrees that the evidence "points to higher casualty numbers than suggested in official statements." Why should Americans have to get their information from guesswork in outside studies instead of the government that does the killing?

In his letter, Clapper frets about "the disclosure of intelligence sources and methods or other classified information." But if the U.S. military, during wartime, can safely put out the number of enemy bodies found on the battlefield, the CIA ought to be able to disclose how many terrorists and bystanders it has extinguished.

Obama's drone war is a covert offensive conducted in remote places far from America, and it's easy to forget because it doesn't put our aviators at risk. But if our government thinks it is justified in killing people, it shouldn't act like it has something to hide.

Steve Chapman

Steve Chapman is a columnist and editorial writer for the Chicago Tribune.

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