WASHINGTON – The White House acknowledged Wednesday it has killed four Americans in overseas counterterrorism operations since 2009, the first time it has publicly taken responsibility for the deaths.
Although the acknowledgement, contained in a letter from Attorney General Eric Holder Jr. to Congress, does not say how the four were killed, three are known to have died in CIA drone strikes in Yemen in 2011. They include Anwar al-Awlaki, his 16-year-old son, and Samir Khan.
The fourth, Jude Kennan Mohammad, a Florida native indicted in North Carolina in 2009, was killed in Pakistan, where the CIA has operated a drone campaign against terrorist suspects for nearly a decade. His death was previously unreported.
Holder’s letter came the day before President Barack Obama is due to deliver a major speech designed to fulfill a promise in his State of the Union speech in January to make elements of his controversial counterterrorism policies more transparent and accountable to Congress and the American public.
Obama is also under pressure to explain how he intends to make even modest progress on other priorities that were centerpieces of a pledge he made at the beginning of his first term.
At the top of that list is closing the Guantanamo Bay prison, where 103 of the 166 detainees still in custody are on a hunger strike.
The administration is planning to restart the transfer of the detainees, 86 of whom have been cleared to leave.
In addition to disclosure of the four killings, Holder wrote that Obama has approved classified briefings for Congress on an overall policy document, informally called the “playbook.” The document, more than a year in the making, codifies the administration’s standards and processes for its unprecedented program of targeted killing and capture of terrorism targets outside of war zones.
Prior to the Obama administration, the only known American killed by a drone strike was Kamal Derwish, who died in a drone strike launched under President George W. Bush in Yemen in 2002.