Obama Administration Admits to Killing Americans in Drone Strikes Everyone Already Knows About

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U.S. President Barack Obama holds a news conference in the Brady Press Briefing Room at the White House April 30, 2013 in Washington, DC. The president took questions on a variety of subjects including immigration reform, the ongoing civil war in Syria and the investigation into the Boston Marathon bombings.
Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

The U.S. government is now prepared to officially announce that it killed four American citizens abroad, including Muslim cleric Anwar al-Awlaki, in three 2011 drone strikes. Ahead of a big speech by President Obama on national security, Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. informed congressional leaders that it killed al-Awlaki in Yemen on purpose, but said the three others "were not specifically targeted by the United States." They include al-Awlaki's 16-year-old son; Samir Khan, who was killed in the same strike as the elder al-Awlaki; and Jude Mohammed, a man from North Carolina who was indicted in 2009 and killed in Pakistan two years later. Mohammed's FBI wanted page is still active, although probably not for much longer. 

Holder expanded on his previous, vague explanation for the attacks sans due process, in which he cited an "imminent threat of violent attack" as justification, by claiming "information that remains classified to protect sensitive sources and methods evidences Awlaki's involvement in the planning of numerous other plots against U.S. and Western interests and makes clear he was continuing to plot attacks when he was killed." He added, "The decision to target Anwar al-Awlaki was lawful, it was considered, and it was just."

Although Obama announced al-Awlaki's death at the time, the administration would not publicly confirm or deny the methods. "I recognize that even after the Administration makes unprecedented disclosures like those contained in this letter, some unanswered questions will remain," Holder wrote. "I assure you that the President and his national security team are mindful of this Administration’s pledge to public accountability for our counterterrorism efforts, and we will continue to give careful consideration to whether and how additional information may be declassified and disclosed to the American people without harming our national security." The full letter is here.