Eric Holder confirms U.S. drones have killed four Americans abroad without charge or trial
By Madison Ruppert
Editor of End the Lie
For the first time, the Obama administration has formally and publicly acknowledged that the United States has killed four American citizens without charge or trial in drone strikes in Yemen and Pakistan.
Last year Attorney General Eric Holder gave a speech saying that secret executive branch reviews of classified evidence count as due process and a Justice Department whitepaper revealed that the government believes they can kill Americans without clear evidence.
However, this is the first time the government has explicitly admitted to carrying out the targeted killing of Anwar al-Awlaki and his 16-year-old son Abdulrahman al-Awlaki along with Samir Khan in Yemen and Jude Mohammad, who was killed in Pakistan. Previously they maintained that the mere existence of the program was too secret to confirm or deny.
In his May 22, 2013 letter addressed to Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), the Chairman of the Senate Committee on the Judiciary, Holder wrote, “Since 2009, the United States, in the conduct of US counterterrorism operations against al-Qaeda and its associated forces outside of areas of active hostilities, has specifically targeted and killed one US citizen, Anwar al-Awlaki.”
“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 individuals were not specifically targeted by the United States.”
Rumors of Jude Mohammed’s death appeared in local news reports in Raleigh, North Carolina, where he lived, according to the New York Times. Yet Mohammed’s death was not confirmed by the U.S. government until Wednesday.
In the letter, Holder alleged that Awlaki actually had direct involvement in planning attacks against the United States.
Holder alleged that Awlaki “planned” the now infamous underwear bombing incident on Christmas day 2009 and also “played a key role” in an October 2010 plot allegedly involving the bombing of cargo planes bound for America.
Holder claimed in the letter that Awlaki took “part in the development and testing” of the bombs.
“Moreover, 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,” Holder wrote.
“The decision to target Anwar al-Awlaki was lawful, it was considered, and it was just,” Holder added.
Such language seems quite similar to the White House claiming that drone strikes are legal, ethical and wise.
Yet when challenged, the Obama administration simply refuses to actually outline why it is legal in court. Instead, a federal judge ruled they can withhold the supposed legal justification while still maintaining that it is, in fact, legal.
“The administration is determined to continue these extensive outreach efforts to communicate with the American people,” Holder wrote. “To this end, the president has directed me to disclose certain information that until now has been properly classified.”
“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. 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,” Holder wrote.
Holder outlined the circumstances in which they believe it is permissible to kill American citizens who are “a senior operational leader of al-Qa’ida or its associated forces, and who is actively engaged in planning to kill Americans” without charge or trial.
According to Holder, these circumstances are:
- The U.S. government has determined, after a thorough and careful review, that the individual poses an imminent threat of violent attack against the United States;
- Capture is not feasible; and
- The operation would be conducted in a manner consistent with applicable law of war principles
Unfortunately, none of those include a charge or trial. Instead, it only requires “a thorough and careful review,” which, of course, is done in secret.
Furthermore, the U.S. government follows what New York Times journalist Charlie Savage called “abstract legal thinking — including an elastic definition of what counts as ‘imminent.’”
The definition of “imminent,” and just how elastic it really is, can be seen in the unclassified Justice Department whitepaper released earlier this year.
As Conor Friedersdorf of the Atlantic wrote that the use of imminent was defined “down in a way that makes it largely meaningless — so much so that it’s actually reminiscent of George W. Bush’s misuse of imminent to characterize the threat posed by Iraq.”
“It’s difficult to adequately emphasize how absurd this part of the document becomes,” Friedersdorf wrote.
Here’s the problem: when the Obama administration says “imminent,” according to the whitepaper, they actually mean, “the condition that an operational leader present an ‘imminent’ threat of violent attack against the United States does not require the United States to have clear evidence that a specific attack on U.S. persons will take place in the immediate future.”
The admission from Holder and the supposed justification outlined in his letter should be thoroughly disturbing to any American who enjoys the right to life, liberty and due process.
No matter what you think about the men killed in these attacks, their ideology and their alleged activities, you must realize that when you strip the right to face a charge and trial before being killed by the government for one person, you strip that right from all Americans.
There is absolutely nothing to stop this strange definition of imminent threat of violent attack from being stretched to cover anyone the government just doesn’t happen to like. When dealing with a government that refuses to defend this justification – or even reveal it – in court, one cannot help but be concerned.
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