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Holder Speech Said to Defend Targeting Killing of U.S. Citizens

U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder will defend the targeting killings of terror suspects, including U.S. citizens, in a speech tomorrow in Chicago, according to a person familiar with the address.

Holder’s speech at the Northwestern University law school will be the Obama administration’s highest profile defense of targeting killings since an American drone strike in Yemen last September killed Anwar al-Awlaki, a U.S.-born al-Qaeda recruiter and propagandist.

Holder will not mention al-Awlaki or any other individual by name and instead will describe the broader legal framework governing the use of lethal force, said the person, who was not authorized to discuss the speech before it was delivered.

Al-Awlaki masterminded the attempted bombing of a Detroit-bound airplane in 2009, according to a sentencing memo filed last month by federal prosecutors in the case against the bomber, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab.

U.S. counter-terrorism officials have said al-Awlaki, via the website of al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, also helped inspire a U.S. Army major to kill 13 people and wound 29 at Fort Hood, Texas in 2009.

A 2010 Justice Department memo said killing al-Awlaki would be lawful if taking him alive wasn’t feasible, the New York Times reported last October.

The American Civil Liberties Union unsuccessfully sued the U.S. government in 2010, challenging targeted assassinations of American citizens without judicial oversight as a violation of their due process rights.

Holder’s speech is the second law school address by a top Obama administration defending the legality of targeted killings in recent weeks.

Jeh Johnson, the Pentagon’s general counsel, said it was a “long-standing and long-legal practice,” in a Feb. 22 speech at Yale Law School in New Haven, Connecticut. Johnson cited the U.S. Navy’s targeting and shooting down of an aircraft ferrying the commander of the Japanese Navy during World War II.

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