The Audacity of Eric Holder’s Letter Admitting Team Obama Killed 4 Americans

Conor Friedersdorf
The Atlantic
May 23, 2013


Its long overdue admissions are paired with praise for the president’s supposed commitment to transparency.

Eric Holder

U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder | Photo: REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

Attorney General Eric Holder has just sent a truly incredible letter to the Senate Judiciary Committee. In it, he acknowledges that the U.S. has killed four of its own citizens in drone strikes. Casual news consumers may find that confusing. Hasn’t there already been an extremely public debate about the killing of American citizen Anwar al-Awlaki and his 16-year-old son, Abdulrahman? Indeed, everyone knows that, despite the 5th Amendment, the Obama Administration believes it can target and kill American citizens without due process, and that it has done so.

But that hasn’t stopped Team Obama from keeping what everyone knows officially classified, permitting them to broach the subject when convenient and to dodge it when inconvenient. Wednesday’s revelation, first reported by the indispensable Charlie Savage of the New York Times, is therefore a good thing. Team Obama has dispensed with the absurd pretense that targeting Americans is a secret, and admitted that they’ve killed a total of 4 Americans with drones.

It’s actually three other features of the letter that are incredible.

1) While a total of four Americans have been killed in drone strikes, the Obama Administration says that it was only targeting one of them. This is an important fact to remember the next time you’re told that their drone campaign is one of “targeted killing” or “surgical precision,” or that drones can linger in the air for hours to make sure that only the intended targets are being blown up. Critics of the drone war have long pointed out that lots of people die by American-fired Hellfire missile who were never targeted, and whose identities aren’t known at the time of their death. What a powerful, irrefutable reminder of those facts. It is a discredit to the Obama Administration that they are just now going on the record with this powerful information.

2) While the letter notes that three of four Americans weren’t specifically targeted, including a 16-year-old, the letter offers no explanation of why young Abdulrahman was in fact killed, and gives no indication that his death is problematic. The American people are owed a full explanation of how he wound up dead. “We weren’t trying to kill the 16-year-old American we blew up” isn’t sufficient explanation, its an admission that a thorough, transparent investigation is needed.

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