U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder has admitted to Congress that four American citizens have been killed by counter-terrorism drone strikes since 2009.
In a letter sent to congressional leaders, Holder disclosed an assortment of classified information, including the names of those killed by the “counter-terrorism operations.”
Only one of the Americans, Anwar al-Awlaki, was a direct target of a drone strike. The radical Muslim cleric was allegedly involved with Al-Qaeda. Holder wrote al-Awlaki “repeatedly made clear his intent to attack U.S. persons in his hope that these attacks would take American lives” and had “direct personal involvement in the continued planning and execution of terrorist attacks against the U.S. homeland.”
Al-Awlaki died in Yemen in September 2011.
“The United States is further aware of three other US citizens who have been killed in such US counterterrorism operations over that same time period,” Holder wrote.
These included Samir Khan, Jude Kennan Mohammed and Awlaki’s son Abdulrahman Anwar al-Awlaki.
“These individuals were not specifically targeted by the United States,” he added.
Khan was killed by the same drone strike as al-Awlaki. Mohammed died in a Pakistan drone strike. Al-Awlaki’s 16-year-old son Abdurrahman was killed in Yemen two weeks after his father.
The letter, dated May 22, was addressed to Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy, D-Vt.
When the New York Times made Holder’s letter public, the White House issued a response stating the disclosure was part of the administration’s effort “to pursue greater transparency around our counter-terrorism operations.”
"You and other members of your committee have on numerous occasions expressed a particular interest in the administration’s use of lethal force against US citizens,” Holder wrote in the letter, “In light of this face, I am writing to disclose to you certain information about the number of US citizens who have been killed by US counterterrorism operations outside of areas of active hostilities.”
Sen. Lindsey Grahama, R-S.C., says drone strikes during Obama’s presidency, as well as during George W. Bush’s, have killed an estimated 5,000 people abroad.
In his letter Holder justifies the drone program by saying “it is an unfortunate but undeniable fact” that a “small number” of U.S. citizens “have decided to commit violent attacks against their own country from abroad.”