The Obama administration has acknowledged that it has killed four of its own citizens in drone strikes since 2009. The targeted killing of a US citizen in 2011 caused major controversy in the US.
In a letter to Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy Wednesday, Attorney General Eric Holder (pictured) said the US targeted and killed one US citizen and killed three others, all in drone strikes.
The citizen targeted was Anwar al-Awlaki, a Muslim cleric, who was killed in a September 2011 strike in Yemen. The three other citizens were Samir Khan, killed in the same strike as al-Awlaki, al-Awlaki's 16-year-old son Abdulrahman, who was killed in Yemen two weeks later. The fourth, and newly revealed case, is that of Jude Kenan Mohammed, who was killed during a strike in Pakistan. Mohammed, from North Carolina, had been indicted on US terrorism charges in 2009 but fled the country.
Holder said that other than al-Awlaki, the citizens killed were not targeted.
The killing of the New Mexico-born al-Awlaki caused controversy in the US. Although the Obama administration had targeted him for killing, he was never charged with a crime. The incident prompted debate over whether the president has the right to kill a US citizen who is accused of being a terrorist and not provide him his constitutionally guaranteed right to due process.
When al-Awlaki was killed, US officials acknowledged his death but refused to confirm it was the result of a CIA drone strike.
Holder said the killing al-Awlaki was "lawful" and "just" because he was an active, not simply rhetorical threat, to the US. Al-Awlaki was accused by Holder of planning the foiled underwear bomber plot on a US airliner bound for Detroit on December 25, 2009.
"It was not just Awlaki's words that led the United States to act against him: they only served to demonstrate his intentions and state of mind," Holder wrote in his letter. "Rather it was Awlaki's actions – and, in particular, his direct personal involvement in the continued planning and execution of terrorist attacks against the US homeland – that made him a lawful target and led the United States to take action."
The attorney general added that al-Awlaki was blamed for a subsequent foiled plot to bring down US cargo planes, and that the decision to assassinate him had been subject to legal review at the top levels of government.
The letter, however, did not explain what led to the killing of Anwar's son, Abdulrahman al-Awlaki, who was a minor and was, according to Holder, not targeted.
'Commitment' to transparency
Despite the murky details of the legal review surrounding al-Awlaki's killing, Holder said the Obama administration was committed to transparency.
"Since entering office, the president has made clear his commitment to providing Congress and the American people with as much information possible about our sensitive counterterrorism operations," Holder said. "To this end, the president has directed me to disclose certain information that until now has been properly classified."
White House spokesman Jay Carney told reporters Wednesday that Obama "believes that we need to be as transparent about a matter like this as we can."
Holder's letter comes on the eve of a speech on national security by President Barack Obama in which he is expected to clarify national security policy issues.
dr/ch (AFP, AP, Reuters, dpa)