Anwar al-Awlaki, shown in Yemen in October 2008, was killed in a U.S. drone strike. (Muhammad ud-Deen/AP file)Attorney General Eric Holder informed Congress on Wednesday that the U.S. has killed four Americans in drone strikes since 2009: radical cleric Anwar al-Awlaki and three others who were “not specifically targeted.”
Holder’s disclosure, first reported by the New York Times, came a day before President Barack Obama was to defend his counterterrorism strategy in an afternoon speech at National Defense University. Obama was slated to focus on drone strikes—which have sparked anger across the Muslim world and increasingly tough questions in Congress—and on his broken promise to close the Guantanamo Bay prison for suspected extremists.
Separately, the Wall Street Journal reported that Obama planned to lift a ban on sending prisoners from Guantanamo to Yemen. The administration prohibited transfers to Yemen out of concern that, once there, they might carry out attacks or radicalize other Yemenis.
The administration will also resume transferring detainees to their home countries that the Pentagon has cleared for release, the paper reported.
Eighty-six of the 166 Guantanamo detainees have been cleared. Of those, 56 are from Yemen. But the first transfers will likely be of prisoners not from Yemen, the Journal reported, citing U.S. officials.
There is little appetite in Congress for closing the brig. Republicans and some Democrats have opposed doing so. And lawmakers of both parties were sure to scrutinize the attorney general's letter on drones.
"The President has directed me to disclose certain information that until now has been properly classified," Holder said in a letter to Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., that was made public by the administration.
"Since 2009, the United States, in the conduct of U.S. counterterrorism operations against al-Qa'ida and its associated forces outside of areas of active hostilities, has specifically targeted and killed one U.S. citizen," Awlaki, Holder wrote.
"The United States is further aware of three other U.S. citizens who have been killed in such U.S. counterterrorism operations over that same time period," he wrote. "These individuals were not specifically targeted by the United States."
Awlaki was killed in a drone strike in Yemen on Sept. 30, 2011. His 16-year-old-son, Abdulrahman Anwar al-Awlaki, was killed in another strike two weeks later. Obama was "surprised and upset and demanded an explanation" for the second attack, according to a new book about the president's counterterrorism strategy.
Two other Americans, Samir Khan and Jude Kenan Mohammed, were also killed in drone attacks, Holder wrote.
The letter also went to the heads of the armed services, intelligence, foreign relations, and judiciary committees of the Senate and House of Representatives, as well as the
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