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The U.S. government admitted for the first time Wednesday that it intentionally droned American citizen Anwar al-Awlaki in Yemen in 2011, and that it unintentionally droned three other Americans, including al-Awlaki's 16-year-old son. Attorney General Eric Holder admitted it in a letter to Congress, The New York Times' Charlie Savage reports. The letter comes the day before President Obama gives a speech at the National Defense University that will justify the drone strikes carried out since he took office, plus "review our detention policy and efforts to close the detention facility at Guantánamo Bay; and he will frame the future of our efforts against Al Qaeda, its affiliates and adherents," an administration official told The New York Times' Scott Shane.

Obama, who has a "kill list" of terrorist suspects, was inspired by the threat of losing reelection to create rules for the next president for when lethal force by drone is justified. It's possible, given the sudden effort to follow through on the president's State of the Union promise for transparency in the face of mounting criticism about the assassinations, that Thursday's speech will lay out those rules. Drone strikes peaked in 2010 in Pakistan, the Times reports, and the rate of strikes in Yemen was cut by half this year compared to 2012. Anwar al-Awlaki, the New Mexico-born cleric turned al-Qaeda operative, was killed in September 2011, perhaps the most controversial drone strike in the Obama administration's targeted killing program.

The letter also said that the United States had killed three other Americans: Samir Khan, who was killed in the same strike; Mr. Awlaki’s son Abdulrahman al-Awlaki, who was also killed in Yemen; and Jude Mohammed, who was killed in a strike in Pakistan.

Here's Holder's letter:


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