Atlantic - Senator Ron Wyden, an Oregon Democrat, has sent an extraordinary letter to top White House counterterrorism adviser John Brennan, President Obama's choice to lead the CIA. The letter poses questions about executive power, like "How much evidence does the President need to determine that a particular American can be lawfully killed?" and "Does the President have to provide individual Americans with the opportunity to surrender before killing them?" We're used to such questions from organizations like the ACLU, journalists like Charlie Savage, and various concerned citizens. And though rules that confer death should always be transparent, the fact that they're being kept even from Wyden is especially indefensible.
The body he sits on, the U.S. Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, is charged with providing "vigilant legislative oversight over the intelligence activities of the United States," to ensure "that they conform with the Constitution and U.S. law." There is no one in America more justified in demanding to know the official legal rationale behind actions like targeted killings. Obama isn't just keeping this information from the American people. He isn't just hiding his legal reasoning from the U.S. Congress. He is stonewalling one of 15 senators that federal law establishes as the most important check on secret abuses by the CIA.
CIA abuses inspired the creation of the very same Select Committee on Intelligence in 1976. It began after the Church Committee discovered and revealed abuses as varied as secretly opening the mail of American citizens, attempting to assassinate foreign leaders, trying to monitor private citizens who opposed the Vietnam War, and illegal wiretapping.