The Obama administration has admitted for the first time what has been widely reported but never explicitly confirmed by officials that the U.S. has killed four American citizens in its drone war in Pakistan and Yemen.
In a letter to Congressional leaders Obama’s Attorney General Eric Holder disclosed that the administration had killed Anwar al-Awlaki and Samir Khan in the same 2011 strike in Yemen, Abdulrahman al-Awlaki a couple weeks afterward, and Jude Mohammed, who was killed in a 2011 strike in Pakistan.
Only the elder Awlaki, the letter insists, was killed deliberately, while the others “were not specifically targeted by the United States.”
The letter does not go into the intended targets or the reasons behind the strikes that killed Abdulrahman al-Awlaki and Jude Mohammed.
Instead, the bulk of the letter focuses on justifying the deliberate assassination of Anwar al-Awlaki. Holder writes that Awlaki was not targeted simply for speaking out against the U.S. or for advocating violence against the U.S., but for being instrumental in actual terrorist plots, including the attempted bombing of a Detroit-bound airliner in December 2009 and an October 2010 plot to bomb cargo planes bound for the United States.
The letter did not make explicit any new arguments for why unchallenged government claims of Awlaki’s guilt made in secret nullified his Fifth Amendment rights to due process. Indeed, previously disclosed legal arguments were employed.
The Obama administration has said that, in the case of Awlaki or any other American citizen targeted in the drone war, secret internal review processes by mostly unelected officials meet the standard of due process in the context of the war on terror.
The administration has also unilaterally redefined the legal standards that justify the use of force. The Justice Department’s leaked memo on targeted killings showed that it has adopted a “broader concept of imminence” than what has traditionally been required. The memo claimed that actual intelligence of an ongoing or imminent plot against the U.S. is simply not a standard the administration chooses to impose on itself.