WASHINGTON -- The Obama administration failed to participate in the Senate's first hearing Tuesday on the use of drones for targeted killings, Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) said.
"I am disappointed that the administration declined to provide witnesses to testify at today’s hearings," Durbin said at the hearing, held before the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Human Rights.
Durbin, who heads the subcommittee, said "more transparency is needed to maintain the support of the American people and the international community." He called on the White House to provide further details on the assessment of "its legal authority to engage in targeted killings and the internal checks and balances involved in U.S. drone strikes."
The administration's refusal to participate comes just a few months after President Barack Obama pledged greater transparency on his targeted killing program during his 2013 State of the Union address.
"We must enlist our values in the fight," Obama said. "In the months ahead, I will continue to engage with Congress to ensure not only that our targeting, detention, and prosecution of terrorists remains consistent with our laws and system of checks and balances, but that our efforts are even more transparent to the American people and to the world."
The lack of transparency from the White House on its drone policy has long been a subject of debate, but Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) brought the issue national attention when he held a 13-hour talking filibuster last month on the nomination of John Brennan as director of the CIA. Paul cited concerns over the drone program after Attorney General Eric Holder said the U.S. government had the legal authority to kill an American citizen on U.S. soil in an "extraordinary circumstance."
The White House clarified that the president does not have the authority to conduct drone strikes against U.S. citizens on American soil, but anti-drone activists found a window nonetheless to refocus attention on the targeted killing program. Civil liberties and human rights activists even dedicated the month of April to protesting Obama's drone program.
The hearing coincides with the release of a book by writer Jeremy Scahill chronicling the 2011 targeted killing in Yemen of al Qaeda operative Anwar al-Awlaki, a cleric who was born in the United States. The book also investigates the accidental killing of Anwar al-Awlaki's American born teenage son, Abdulrahman al-Awlaki, in a CIA drone strike.
A White House spokesperson did not immediately return a request for comment about the absence of administration officials from the hearing.
UPDATE:: National Security Council spokeswoman Caitlin Hayden told The Huffington Post the administration has been in regular contact with the committee about how to "best provide them with the information they require."
"As the president has indicated, we will continue to engage Congress and to ensure that our counterterrorism efforts are not only consistent with our laws and system of checks and balances, but even more transparent to the American people and to the world," Hayden said.