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As Outrage Erupts, Obama Administration Defends its Targeted Killings of U.S. Citizens Overseas

Attorney General Eric Holder gave a broad defense of the chillingly expansive authority that the United States claims to be able to kill people, including its own citizens.

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AMY GOODMAN: You’re representing the Awlaki family?

HINA SHAMSI: We represented the father of Anwar al-Awlaki in a lawsuit seeking disclosure of the criteria pursuant to which the government sought to kill his son.

AMY GOODMAN: Explain what happened exactly. How did Awlaki get killed, the U.S. citizen with him, and then his 16-year-old son, born in the United States—


AMY GOODMAN: —how he was killed weeks later?

HINA SHAMSI: Well, we brought a lawsuit in 2010 seeking the disclosure of the criteria pursuant to which the government had put Anwar al-Awlaki on a secret bureaucratic kill list. The judge, unfortunately, dismissed the case, saying that the father did not have standing, but also said that it was not the role of the courts to rule on the executive branch’s exercise of what it called "political question authority." Now, Anwar al-Awlaki was killed in fall, September of 2011, and with him died Samir Khan, who was a Saudi-born American citizen, and they were killed in a joint  JSOC-CIA drone strike. And then, two weeks later, 16-year-old Abdulrahman al-Awlaki, Anwar al-Awlaki’s son, was killed in a second drone strike. And what we have done is sought, through our  FOIA lawsuit, to get the legal memos justifying those drone strikes, as well as the evidentiary basis now for why the U.S. sought to kill these three of its own citizens.

AMY GOODMAN: Was there any explanation by the U.S. government for the killing of the 16-year-old?

HINA SHAMSI: There was no explanation whatsoever. But, you know, there’s a couple of really important things here, that—administration officials have gone on the record to defend the program, the targeted killing program, in the broadest terms. Other administration officials have leaked details about the program anonymously. In both of these instances, the administration touts its successes when it serves its own interest, but it refuses to provide true transparency or to make its justification to the public and to the courts. And that self-justifying approach is no longer tenable.

AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to turn to President Obama, who defended his administration’s unprecedented use of armed drones, during a so-called virtual interview that was conducted online in January. He also acknowledged the U.S. was carrying out drone strikes inside Pakistan. Obama made the comment after he was asked how he feels about the large number of civilians killed by drones since he took office.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: I want to make sure that people understand, actually, drones have not caused a huge number of civilian casualties. For the most part, they have been very precise precision strikes against al-Qaeda and their affiliates. And we are very careful in terms of how it’s been applied. So, I think that there’s this perception somehow that we’re just sending in a whole bunch of strikes willy-nilly. This is a targeted, focused effort at people who are on a list of active terrorists who are trying to go in and harm Americans, hit American facilities, American bases, and so on. It is important for everybody to understand that this thing is kept on a very tight leash.

AMY GOODMAN: That was President Obama. Your response?

HINA SHAMSI: Well, there are people who say that if President Obama authorizes these strikes, then we have to trust him. But I think those people have to ask themselves that we—how they would trust the next president and the president after to declare people, including American citizens, enemies of the state and to order their killing without any oversight or any judicial review whatsoever. And we simply don’t know whether or not civilians have been killed, and if civilians have been killed, what processes are in place to offer their families compensation or some kind of redress. This is a program that amounts to the executive branch saying, "Trust us." And that’s simply not enough.

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