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Obama, drones and U.S. citizens: Don't feel bad...cuz 1 out of 4 ain't bad

The Obama administration came out with some major news tonight about its drone strikes aimed at killing terrorists abroad. Some good news: He's finally coming clean about how many American citizens have been killed by flying death robots since Obama became president in 2009:Four. Some bad news: He's just telling us the truth now? And here's something else to ponder: The statement from Obama's Attorney General Eric Holder said that only one of the four U.S. citizens who were killed was specifically targeted; put another way, the error rate on assassinations seems to be 75 percent:

First, the news, as "leaked" (heh) to the New York Times:

WASHINGTON — One day before President Obama is due to deliver a major speech on national security, his administration on Wednesday formally acknowledged that the United States had killed four American citizens in drone strikes in Yemen and Pakistan.

In a letter to Congressional leaders obtained by The New York Times, Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. disclosed that the administration had deliberately killed Anwar al-Awlaki, a radical Muslim cleric who was killed in a drone strike in September 2011 in Yemen.

But wait, there's more:

For all the effort that the Obama administration has gone to in asserting that its drones only kill the people that the administration intends to kill, Holder wrote in a letter today to Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) that Samir Khan, 16-year-old Abdulrahman Awlaki and Jude Kenan Mohammad were "not specifically targeted by the United States." The fourth American to die in a drone strike since 2009 was Abdulrahman's father Anwar Awlaki, a radical propagandist whom the U.S. killed in Yemen in 2011.

The five-page letter, obtained and published by Charlie Savage of The New York Times, does not explain the circumstances that led to the unintentional killings of Khan, Mohammad and the younger Awlaki. Holder does not apologize for the killings, nor explain whether their deaths resulted from errant targeting, mistaken identity or another circumstance.

But after acknowledging that the administration did "not specifically targe[t]" those three Americans, Holder defended killing Americans the administration believes to be members of al-Qaida without due process, a constitutionally questionable proposition.

Indeed, let us never forget that while Americans killed by drone strikes (the ones sitting in a cafe in Austin, Tex., anyway) are the obsession of Sen. Rand Paul, the broader reality is that an estimated 4,700 other people have been killed by American drone strikes in Afghanistan, in Pakistan, in Yeman and elsewhere. How many of these are terrorists ordered killed by Obama, and how many were civilians, or people whose identity we just don't know. And how many of their survivors will become Terrorists 2.0, like the meat-cleaver killers in London who want the U.K. out of Afghanistan?

Ironically, it seems like Obama is "going Bulworth" on drones. He's trying to be more transparent -- with this letter today and a major speech tomorrow seeking to finally explain his drone policy, after four-and-a-half years. Also getting less attention tonight is a move to finally transfer some detainees out of Guantanamoo. If Obama is on the verge of a new and improved policy on drones and other aspects of America's "forever war," it points to two things I've been saying for some time.

One, Obama will never keep his progressive campaign promises of 2008 without constant and forceful pressure from his liberal base. Two, Obama is facing this pressure to do the right thing because of good national security reporting, because journalists reported details of what our president and his aides were doing that they didn't want the American people to know. The kind of journalism that the Obama administration targets with aggressive, overly broad and likely unconstitutional prosecutorial investigations. Which is why the fight for a free press in America has never been more important.