by J. D. Heyes
First it was one American Obama ordered killed by drone strike. Then two. Now, we learn, the number of Americans killed in overseas drone strikes by this administration is four.
Is it any wonder why this administration is losing credibility fast (and furious)?
Attorney General Eric Holder, who says he doesn’t know much about that little scandal – or the Justice Department’s theft of phone records of 20 Associated Press reporters and a few from Fox News – apparently does know a little something about drone strikes.
He disclosed the previously classified data about the three additional Americans May 22 in a letter to the head of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., an administration ally. According to reports, Holder disclosed the names of the three, along with a revelation that only one of them was directly targeted in strikes that began shortly after Obama took office in 2009.
Always the lawyer, Holder didn’t actually call them “drone strikes.” Instead, he referred to them as “counterterrorism operations,” though most of the named individuals “are known to have died in drone strikes,” Fox News and The Associated Press reported.
Tortured explanation? You decide. Three of the four who were killed were killed – accidentally?. That makes no sense, for reasons I’ll discuss below.
Why the sudden need for truth, Mr. President?
The one American we knew about – Anwar al-Awlaki – was a radicalized Muslim cleric whom U.S. intelligence officials believed to be responsible for planning al Qaeda-sponsored terrorist attacks. Once the administration determined him to be an enemy of the state, he was targeted by a drone in Yemen in 2011.
Where this all begins to become suspicious, however, is in the timing of it all. Holder’s “admission” letter came shortly before a major counterterrorism policy speech by President Obama at the National Defense University at Ft. McNair, in Washington, D.C., May 23. In it, Obama – not so coincidentally – discussed the legality of drone strikes, and offered up a mea culpa of sorts:
…[A]s our fight enters a new phase, America’s legitimate claim of self-defense cannot be the end of the discussion. To say a military tactic is legal, or even effective, is not to say it is wise or moral in every instance. For the same human progress that gives us the technology to strike half a world away also demands the discipline to constrain that power — or risk abusing it.
In his letter, Holder named the three others who had been killed: Samir Khan, Jude Kennan Mohammed and Awlaki’s son Abdulrahman Anwar al-Awlaki. According to reports, Khan was killed in the same drone strike that killed Anwar al-Awlaki. His 16-year-old son, and a Denver native, was killed by a drone a few weeks later, also in Yemen. Mohammed died in Pakistan.
But then Holder wrote that “these individuals were not specifically targeted by the United States.” What does that mean? Then why were they killed?
And how can a precision weapon like a drone “accidentally” target and kill someone? Three someones, in fact? Americans, no less?
Something, once again, smells, and it is emanating from the bowels of this White House.
More of the same dishonest hypocrisy
In a bid to get out in front of this new information – perhaps because the administration was fearful it was about to be revealed elsewhere, maybe by a whistleblower or leaked by someone to the press – the White House issued a statement shortly after Holder’s letter was made public, saying Obama ordered the disclosure (wow, doesn’t that sound presidential?) in order to “build on his effort – included in this year’s State of the Union address – ‘to pursue greater transparency around our counterterrorism operations,'” Fox News reported.
That’d be a first. In fact, it is a first. And while a little “transparency” for a change is nice, again, you have to wonder why now, and what else regarding drone strikes is the administration hiding?
The killing of Anwar al-Awlaki, a New Mexico native educated at George Washington University, had been widely known and reported for more than a year. When news of his targeted killing surfaced, it sparked debate among constitutional scholars about whether American citizens, even those abroad who may be engaged in terrorist activities, should be targeted by the government without first facing criminal charges (remember, this is a president who constantly talks about “prosecuting” suspected terrorists, and who wanted the prisoners in Guantanamo Bay brought to civilian courts for trial). With the admission that others were targeted and killed – “accidentally” or not – the administration, once again, is being hypocritical and dishonest with the American people.
In his letter, Holder defended the administration’s actions, of course, noting that “al-Awlaki was a senior operational leader of al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, the most dangerous regional affiliate of al Qaeda and a group that has committed numerous terrorist attacks overseas and attempted multiple times to conduct terrorist attacks against the U.S. homeland.”
‘Transparency’ is the final casualty
He went onto say in his five-page missive that “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.”
Left out of his letter, of course, was an explanation of why the other three who were killed accidentally were ever targeted in the first place. If they were, indeed, plotting “to commit violent attacks against their own country from abroad,” like Holder says, isn’t that the same justification the administration used to kill al-Awlaki, and if so, why not just say so? Constitutional issues, perhaps – as in the al-Awlaki case from the start? Or maybe because the knowledge that the administration pursued a policy of unrestrained drone-killing of Americans overseas conflicts with the president’s “I want to prosecute them, not kill them” message?
Now, suddenly, Obama says he wants to limit future drone strikes. Huh?
As usual, the administration’s tortured justification/explanation doesn’t add up. And again, “transparency” is the final casualty.
Sources for this article include:
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