The New York Times tells the backstory on the Obama administration’s decision to use a drone attack in 2011 to kill Anwar al-Awlaki, the firebrand preacher, born in New Mexico, who had evolved from a peddler of Internet hatred to a senior operative in Al Qaeda's branch in Yemen, and Samir Kham, another American citizen who had moved to Yemen from North Carolina and was the creative force behind Inspire, the militant group's English-language Internet magazine. The drone attack has become the subject of new public scrutiny and debate, touched off by the nomination of John O. Brenna, President Obama's counterterrorism adviser, to be head of the C.I.A.
The attack was the culmination of years of painstaking intelligence work, intense deliberation by lawyers working for Obama and turf fights between the Pentagon and the C.I.A., whose parallel drone wars converged on the killing grounds of Yemen. For what was apparently the first time since the Civil War, the United States government had carried out the deliberate killing of an American citizen as a wartime enemy and without a trial. Eighteen months later, despite the Obama administration's effort to keep it cloaked in secrecy, the attack has ignited demands for even greater transparency and prompted some to wonder: If the president can order the assassination of Americans overseas, based on secret intelligence, what are the limits to his power?