Attorney General Eric Holder on Monday plans to provide the most detailed account to date of the Obama administration's legal rationale for killing U.S. citizens abroad, as it did in last year's airstrike against an alleged Al-Qaida operative in Yemen, officials said.
The rationale Holder plans to offer resembles, in its broad strokes, those previously offered by lower-ranking officials. But his speech on Monday at Northwestern University's law school in Chicago will mark a new and higher-profile phase of the administration's campaign to justify lethal action in those rare instances when U.S. citizens, such as New Mexico-born Anwar al-Awlaki, a skilled propagandist, join terrorist causes devoted to harming their homeland.
Civil libertarians and other critics have been demanding a more thorough and public accounting of the administration's logic since the killing of Al-Awlaki in September.
Holder plans to argue that the killing of an American terrorist abroad is legal under a post-Sept. 11, 2001, congressional authorization of the use of military force, according to an official briefed on the speech, who spoke on the condition of anonymity. This official also said Holder plans to say that the U.S. right to self-defense is not limited to traditional battlefields as the government pursues terrorists who present an imminent threat.
Al-Qaida militants overran an army base in southern Yemen on Sunday, capturing heavy weapons and turning them on soldiers in intense clashes that left 61 dead, a military official said.
The battle near the town of Zinjibar in the southern province of Abyan killed 36 government troops and 25 of the militants, the military official said. A medical official confirmed the death toll. Scores were wounded on both sides, they said, speaking on condition of anonymity as they were not authorized to talk to the media.
Militants seized control of Zinjibar in May, taking advantage of political turmoil linked to the uprising against then-President Ali Abdullah Saleh.
Libyan government officials said they had unearthed a mass grave with 157 bodies of rebel fighters and civilians in Bin Jawwad, an eastern town that was a major battleground during the country's 2011 civil war.
It is the largest grave yet to be discovered from the conflict that began as a popular uprising and ended with the killing of Moammar Gadhafi.
The head of the new government-run missing persons office, Omar al-Obeidi, said that 80 of the bodies discovered in Bin Jawwad had been identified. The youngest was a 17-year-old male.