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Eric HolderWASHINGTON — Five months after the CIA sought out and killed an American-born cleric and al-Qaida operative in Yemen, Attorney General Eric Holder is expected to explain how the U.S. can legally kill U.S. citizens on foreign soil.

According to the official, Holder plans to say in a major speech on Monday at Northwestern University law school in Chicago that lethal force is legal under a Sept. 18, 2001, joint congressional resolution.

The Authorization for Use of Military Force enacted a week after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks authorizes the use of all necessary force in order to prevent any future acts of international terrorism against the United States.

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The official said Holder also will address how the Obama administration reformed military commissions and how both the Obama and the George W. Bush administrations have successfully used civilian courts to convict and sentence terrorists. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because the contents of the speech haven’t been released.

In recent months, the Obama administration has engaged in an internal debate about how much to reveal about the legal justification for the killing of Anwar al-Awlaki.

The al-Qaida cleric who was born in New Mexico and once preached at an Islamic center in Falls Church, Va., was killed in September by a joint CIA-U.S. military drone strike on a convoy in Yemen. He had been in the U.S. crosshairs since his killing was approved by President Barack Obama in April 2010 – making him the first American placed on the CIA “kill or capture” list.

At least three recently filed lawsuits have sought to force the Obama administration to publicly release its legal justification for the attack. The justification is contained in a secret Justice Department memo.

The administration has provided some details about what al-Awlaki was doing that made him so dangerous to the United States. In that vein, the Justice Department disclosed that a Nigerian man who tried to blow up an international flight on Christmas 2009 told FBI agents that his mission was approved after a three-day visit with al-Awlaki.

The man, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, was sentenced last month to life in prison after admitting he attempted to blow up the plane with a bomb in his underwear as the plane approached Detroit.

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