For the first time, US Attorney General Eric Holder has admitted that four American citizens have been killed in extrajudicial strikes by unmanned aircraft. The New York Times has obtained a letter sent to Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT), chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, disclosing details about the Obama Administration's drone program. In it, Holder gave the names of the four citizens killed since 2009: Muslim cleric and alleged terrorist Anwar al-Awlaki, his teenage son Abdulrahman al-Awlaki, Samir Khan, and Jude Kenan Mohammed.
Of the four, only Anwar al-Awlaki was specifically targeted for a strike. Samir Khan was caught in the same strike as al-Awlaki, and Mohammed and al-Awlaki's son were killed in separate strikes. While the details of these strikes were known before, Obama's White House has been notoriously tight-lipped about its drone program until very recently. In the letter, Holder defended the administration's decision to order the strikes without due process. "The Administration's legal views on this weighty issue have been clear and consistent over time," he wrote. Al-Awlaki, he said, "posed a continuing and imminent threat of violent attack against the United States," and capturing him was unfeasible.
"The Administration's legal views on this weighty issue have been clear and consistent over time."
"The Constitution does not prohibit the Government it establishes from taking action to protect the American people from the threats posed by terrorists who hide in faraway countries and continually plan and launch plots against the U.S. homeland," he said. "The decision to target Anwar al-Aulaqi was lawful, it was considered, and it was just." Holder did not elaborate on the three other American deaths described in the letter, nor did he address deaths of non-US citizens as a result of either manned or unmanned attacks.
Holder's letter came in the wake of increasing Congressional scrutiny of drones both at home and abroad. Congress has held multiple hearings on the ethics of unmanned aerial vehicles as either weapons or surveillance devices; in a recent statement to the Senate Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Human Rights, journalist Farea al-Muslimi described his fear and anger upon learning that his home village had been struck in an attack. "Drone strikes are the face of America to many Yemenis," he said.