White House defends drone attacks, 'kill list'

The White House responded Tuesday to criticism of the Obama administration’s use of drone attacks and a so-called “kill list,” saying President Obama will do what is necessary to protect Americans from harm.

“President Obama made clear from the start to his advisers and to the world that we were going to take whatever steps are necessary to protect the American people from harm, and particularly from a terrorist attack,” White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said.

Details about the attacks in such places as Yemen and Pakistan and the Al Qaeda members on the list were made public in a lengthy New York Times story that included interviews with more than 30 White House advisers and former advisers.

The story has resulted a range of concerns and questions – including about the legality of such attacks in countries where the United States is technically not at war and the moral implications of Obama deciding whether to OK a drone strike that could potentially kill civilians, as well as whether the Times interviews resulted in potential security leaks.

On the issue of a potential security breach, Carney referred to a recent speech by White House chief counter-terrorism adviser John Brennan, in which he provided an open view of the drone mission and the administration’s large counter-terrorism policy.

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    The interviews create a vivid account of weekly counter-terrorism meetings in the White House Situation Room in which officials review a list of targets for the remote-control drone planes, then the president personally signs off on who will get killed or captured.

    There were turning points early in Obama's term for what is considered an unprecedented and aggressive approach by a president toward dismantling Al Qaeda. Reportedly weighing on the administration's deliberations were a strike in Yemen that killed civilians and an attempted Christmas 2009 attack on a U.S.-bound jet.

    Deliberations also reportedly turned to the legal justification for carrying out the plans, including the fatal 2011 attack on American-born cleric and Al Qaeda propagandist Anwar al-Awlaki.

    Republicans and other critics say Obama has chosen to kill suspected terrorists rather than capture them, an approach they say was necessitated by his failure to keep a campaign promise to craft a plan to close the Guantanamo Bay prison camp in Cuba.

    “Nearly three and a half years after announcing his intention to close Guantanamo prison, President Obama still hasn’t offered a plan to deal with the dangerous terrorists it holds,”  Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said late Tuesday.