In a letter to Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy, Holder said only one of the four, radical cleric Anwar al-Awlaki, was specifically targeted in the operations against al-Qaeda. Holder said the letter, directed by President Obama, is in response to congressional inquiries about the "administration use of lethal force against U.S. citizens."
It comes in advance of today's national security speech by Obama as he attempts to address one of the most volatile issues in the nation's counterterrorism strategy. Drones are a major topic for his speech, which will be delivered at the National Defense University in Washington.
Outlining the reasoning for the use of lethal force, Holder said such targets are U.S. citizens affiliated as senior al-Qaeda operatives in foreign countries who pose an "imminent threat of violent attack" against the U.S. and whose capture is not "feasible." The operations must be "conducted in a manner consistent with applicable law of war principles."
Al-Awlaki, as an operational leader of al-Qaeda's affiliate in the Arabian Peninsula that is blamed for the attempted 2009 Christmas Day bombing of an airliner over Detroit and other plots, "satisfied all conditions."
Human rights advocates were not satisfied with Holder's explanation.
"The Obama administration continues to claim authority to kill virtually anyone anywhere in the world under the 'global battlefield' legal theory and a radical redefinition of the concept of imminence," said Zeke Johnson, Amnesty International USA's director of Security with Human Rights.
Dixon Osburn, director of Human Rights First's Law and Security Program, said the group was "deeply concerned that the administration appears to be institutionalizing a problematic targeted killing policy without public debate."
"The American public deserves to know whether the administration is complying with the law," he said.
A service of YellowBrix, Inc.