Others were less certain that critics would be satisfied.
desire to put this on a normal, rule-of-law footing keeps clashing with
the imperatives of national security, which entail extreme
institutional secrecy,” said Jack Goldsmith, former director of the
Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel. “That clash has been going
on since the first day of the administration.”
Prior to the Obama
administration, the only known American killed by a drone strike was
Kamal Derwish, who died in a strike launched in Yemen in 2002 under
President George W. Bush.
In September 2011, Obama announced the
death of Awlaki, a New Mexico-born cleric described as the foreign
operations director for Yemen-based al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula,
known as AQAP. Although Obama did not claim U.S. responsibility, the
fact that Awlaki was killed by a CIA drone was one of the worst-kept
secrets in Washington.
According to Holder’s letter, Awlaki was
the only U.S. citizen the administration “has specifically targeted and
killed.” Khan, who edited an AQAP online magazine that provided
bomb-building instructions allegedly used to carry out the Boston
Marathon attack, was not targeted but was at Awlaki’s side and killed in
the same strike.
Two weeks after Awlaki’s death, his 16-year-old
son, Abdulrahman — who had gone to the Yemeni desert in search of his
father — was killed in a drone strike meant for someone else. That
strike was similarly unacknowledged, although a senior administration
official privately characterized it as a “mistake.”
American death, Jude Kennan Mohammad, was previously unreported.
According to an information sheet released by the Justice Department,
the former North Carolina resident was charged in 2009 with conspiracy
“to provide material support to terrorists, including currency,
training, transportation and personnel” and “to murder, kidnap, maim and
injure persons abroad.”
Mohammad had fled the United States for
Pakistan in the fall of 2008. According to Pakistan news accounts, the
20-year-old Mohammad, whose father was Pakistani, was detained by
authorities when he tried to enter a tribal region near the Afghan
border but was later released.
Mohammad’s mother, Elena Mohammad,
said in a telephone interview that she was aware that her son had been
killed in a drone strike but that she got the news from people in
Pakistan, not U.S. authorities. She said she had no details on when and
where her son was killed.
“I dealt with that, and I don’t have to
deal with it anymore because it’s already over with,” she said. “So
whatever transpired I don’t want it back in my life anymore. It’s gone.
There are no questions. I don’t have to hear any authorities; the FBI
has finished coming to my house. It’s over. That’s it.”
to Guantanamo, the large Yemeni population there — at least 84 of the
166 detainees — could be one area where Obama chooses to act. After the
failed attempt to bomb a commercial plane over Detroit on Dec. 25, 2009,
a plot that was linked to Awlaki and AQAP, the president suspended all
transfers of detainees to Yemen.
The government of Yemen and human
rights groups have urged Obama to lift the moratorium and begin the
staggered repatriation of some of these detainees. Of the Yemenis held
at the military detention center in Cuba, 26 have been cleared for
transfer and 30 others could be sent home if security conditions in the
country improved, according to U.S. officials
Yemen President Abed
Rabbo Mansour Hadi recently set up a detainee affairs committee made up
of cabinet ministers and officials in the defense, intelligence and
internal security agencies to manage any return and work with the United
States to create and implement a resettlement plan, according to
Mohammed Albasha, a spokesman for Yemen’s Embassy in Washington.
additional 30 detainees of various nationalities were also cleared for
transfer by an interagency task force in the first year of Obama’s
first term but remain at the facility.
Greg Miller and Julie Tate contributed to this report.