Archive | Yemen

In Yemen, Terrorism Comes from Above


In congressional briefing, Yemeni delegation describe terror drones bring to their communities

“What could possibly justify terrorizing a community of 250,000 just for the purpose of killing one person?”

Robert Naiman (left), Medea Benjamin (mid left), Faisal bin Ali Jaber (center), Baraa Shiban (mid right) and Entesar Qadhi (right). (Image: FDL)

At a congressional briefing hosted by Representative Alan Grayson and organized by CODEPINK, this was one of a number of questions posed as a delegation of individuals from Yemen spoke about the direct impact United States drones have had on their country and lives.

Entesar Qadhi, a Yemeni youth leader elected to a position in the National Dialogue Conference (NDC) from the Mareb province, told of the horror her village has experienced as they fight off al Qaeda and successfully drive members of the militant group out only to have them return after a US drone strikes her village.

“We were told that drones are used to target al Qaeda and only al Qaeda, but the reality is my village didn’t know al Qaeda [until] after those drones” started hovering over our skies, Qadhi said.

“Whenever there is a drone strike, drones heavily hover over the village so the entire village keeps living in constant fear waiting for the moment when it will strike,” she added. And, “Whenever the strike happens, we feel the earth is shaking. We see fire coming from the sky. Everyone is afraid for the fact they don’t know where or when these strikes are happening.”

“Most of the victims are not from our village. We don’t know who they are. Just the reality that they are passing by the village makes all the village a target of the strike,” Qadhi explained.

“My village and our tribes usually enter into armed clashes with Qaeda people. In fact, there has been a tribal treaty between the tribes and the government to hand over anyone who is suspected to be a Qaeda member,” she added. “But unfortunately whenever we have an armed clash the Yemeni government is not supporting us, and the drones are not supporting us.”

The drones only seem to come strike the village after they have kicked al Qaeda out “as if it is a sign that the al Qaeda people should get back to the village.”

“Drone strikes actually make al Qaeda people more popular because of the fact that they are striking inside of our villages, which makes the presence of Qaeda justified in our place,” she stated.

Faisal bin Ali Jaber, who had relatives killed in a drone strike in the Hadramawt province in August 2012, also delivered remarks.

“After my son’s wedding, four missiles coming from a drone hit my village killing my brother-in-law, Salim, and Walid, who is my nephew,” Jaber said. “Those missiles came from the country that supposedly praises itself as a democracy. And, unfortunately, it killed those people without any court hearing or any law.” He suggested this is similar to how al Qaeda will kill people without any legal process.

“I cannot explain how horrific the scenery was,” he stated. There were bodies cut into pieces. An arm was thrown here. Another arm was thrown in another place. “It was a very tragic, tragic moment.”

Boldly, he continued, “I came here today to share with you my story and what has happened to my family and when I came here I had specific questions in mind: Who is the one responsible for the death of my relatives? Will anyone be held accountable for their deaths? And they left families behind. Is the United States willing to give any compensation to those families?”

Just hours before Jaber learned a drone had again attacked the Hadramawt province, where he lives. “The reality today that there was another strike in our area makes me afraid that there might be [more] victims and more people [Obama] will have to answer to in the future,” Jaber concluded.

He wrote a letter to Obama asking for an apology and an explanation for why his relatives were killed. Jaber has received no response, and the Yemeni President Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi sent a letter to Jaber indicating the families of Salim and Walid would be compensated. However, more than one year later, no compensation has been received and‎ Hadi will not acknowledge in public that drone strikes kill civilians. [For more on Jaber's story, go here.]

Baraa Shiban, who works for Reprieve and is also a member of the NDC, conveyed to members of Congress his fear the people of Yemen are losing trust in the Yemeni government and that could further destabilize society.

“The whole process, unfortunately, is untransparent. No one knows. Everything is done in secrecy. The Yemeni government does not apologize,” Shiban said. He told members of Congress that he was just a human rights activist, who investigates and tries to hold the government responsible and neither the Yemeni government nor the United States will recognize victims who are killed.

“The US owes those families at least an apology. They owe an explanation of what has happened here,” he added.

The briefing took place exactly two weeks after another similar congressional briefing, which featured firsthand accounts from Rafiq ur Rehman and his two children, Zubair and Nabila, whose 68 year-old grandmother was killed by a drone when she was out in her garden gathering okra for dinner. Both Zubair and Nabila were injured in the attack. Brave New Films director Robert Greenwald showed a clip from his documentary, “Unmanned: America’s Drone Wars.”

Only five members of Congress attended that briefing: Rep. Jan Schakowsky, Rep. Rush Holt, Rep. John Conyers, Rep. Rick Nolan, and Grayson, who hosted the briefing.

CODEPINK co-founder Medea Benjamin told those attending the briefing, “It’s been very hard to get the visas for people coming from Pakistan and Yemen. It was very hard to get the visas for this delegation. A number of members of the delegation from Yemen were not able to come because they couldn’t get a visa. Some other families that were going to come from Pakistan could not get a visa.”

Despite the struggle to bring voices to share stories with members of Congress, only five Congress members made appearances during this round: Schakowsky, Grayson, Rep. Barbara Lee, Rep. Charlie Rangel, and Rep. Chellie Pingree. However, the briefing was held in a room in the Rayburn House Office Building that could barely fit 70 people and was much smaller and less decorated than the room where the previous briefing was held. Various staff of congressional members’ offices came by and signed their name to a sheet indicating they had stopped by the briefing and that list remarkably included some Republicans.

Grayson, in opening remarks, asked those in attendance, “Does it make any sense to send these death machines from our shores to a location eight or nine thousand miles, have somebody watch a computer screen in the United States and on the basis of what they see on that screen decide who lives and who dies in a foreign country?”

He repeated what he had said at the briefing two weeks ago, that no other country in the world does anything like that, including Russia and China.

“Fifteen to twenty percent of the victims” are “people with no political history, no ideology, no sense of any possibility that they are even enemies of this country much less people who could possibly do us harm,” he also suggested. Yet, “These people are dead, dead, dead, including 200 children.”

Lee used her opening remarks to restate her support for repealing the 2001 Authorized Use of Military Force, which has been cited as part of the legal justification for US drone strikes. She also said there should be a moratorium on drones until accountability measures and standards could be put in place and urged members of Congress to support her legislation, Drones Accountability Act, which she has introduced.

For the Yemeni delegation, Schakowsky wanted to know if they had a list of victims, “collateral damage,” who could be compensated. Human rights organizations have tried to uncover the names of drone victims killed, but no comprehensive list for compensating (or possibly more importantly apologizing) to victims is known to exist.

Schakowsky was at one point very surprised to hear Shiban detail how it is not true that the Yemeni government cannot capture those the US has targeted in drone strikes.

“One of the strikes, the strike happened 1 km away from a police station,” Shiban recounted. “Another strike, it targeted a military officer and then the Yemeni government said he was an al Qaeda militant, but to be honest they could have arrested him. He came to the Yemeni military to receive his salary every month. They could have easily arrested him instead of terrorizing the whole community, making them live in fear of a drone strike.”

Often militants have to pass through checkpoints to enter villages. It would be possible to make arrests.

Grayson asked if anyone in Yemen other than president supports drone strikes. Shiban said he had not seen anyone including the advisers of the president praising the strikes.


It definitely is easy to look at the absence of Congress members at the hearings and say this is all for nothing, but there is something remarkable that happens when these victims are able to travel here and share their story in an official forum. They are relieved and grateful that there are Americans here willing to listen and acknowledge the terrible experiences they have suffered, which the United States government will not formally acknowledge. It gives them access to US media and Americans, who simply have no idea what terror they experience as drones dominate their skies.

Victims who travel to the US force this country to look inward and ask ourselves why this is being allowed to happen. It then exposes our society and the extent to which the government will go to protect this heinous and devastating policy by denying visas to people like Pakistani lawyer Shahzad Akbar, who represents drone victims. It demonstrates the indifference in Congress and the apathy (as Grayson said drones are not even in the top 100 things members care about on a daily basis).

There is a lot that I have written about drones over the past couple of years, but few experiences exemplify the terror of America’s drone policy like what Qadhi, a brave woman, has had to deal with in her life.

Can anyone imagine the demoralization and powerlessness that could consume a person living in a village where militant thugs from al Qaeda take over the village and are driven out by the community without any support from a government that is supposed to be allied with the US government in a fight against al Qaeda? Can anyone imagine thinking you have driven out all of these people when suddenly the skies erupt and a drone fires a Hellfire missile at someone in your village? Can anyone imagine those victims then being people who may not be al Qaeda members? And then, finally, can anyone imagine witnessing the return of militant thugs from al Qaeda, who wish to come back and take advantage of the drone strike by recruiting people to join their fight against the Yemeni government and America?

It is a circle of terror that no community should ever have to experience, and it is one of the many glaring examples of the bankruptcy of America’s drone policy.

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Drone Strike Rings in Second Landmark Drone Hearing


Yemeni delegation addresses lawmakers Tuesday on impact US foreign policy is having on families and communities

- Lauren McCauley

(Screenshot from RT video)As Yemeni Faisal Jabar prepared to address U.S. lawmakers Tuesday about the drone strike that killed two members of his family, media reports confirmed new casualties following a U.S. airstrike near his village.

At least three men were killed when an airstrike hit a car traveling in the Ghayl Bawazir area of Hadramout. Local witnesses told the Associated Press that the strike came from a U.S. drone aircraft and a Yemeni official confirmed that their government had not carried out any strikes in the area.

Witnesses told Xinhua that “fire engulfed the vehicle soon after the attack” and a “powerful explosion was heard after the attack.” Reportedly the identities of those killed were “unclear.”

The attack occurred hours before a delegation from Yemen prepared to appear before a Congressional briefing Tuesday to testify on the impact U.S. drone strikes have had on their families, their communities and “their efforts for a democratic transition in Yemen.”

Faisal bin Ali Jaber—whose brother-in-law and nephew were killed by a US drone strike on August 29, 2012—will be joined by Entesar al Qadhi, a leading female politician and youth representative at the National Dialogue Conference in Yemen, and Baraa Shiban, the Yemen project coordinator for the legal group Reprieve.

The hearing is only the second time victims of drone strikes have appeared before Congress. Last month, the Rehman family gave their account to a nearly-empty room of a U.S. drone attack that killed their grandmother and injured the two children in the remote tribal region of North Waziristan, Pakistan last October.

Organized by CODEPINK and hosted by Representatives Barbara Lee (D-Calif.), Alan Grayson (D-Fla.), and Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.), the hearing will begin at 4 PM EST. A live stream can be viewed here and followed on Twitter below.

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WikiLeaks and the Drone Strike Transparency Bill


By keeping key information secret, the Administration has been able to avoid having its two key claims in defense of its drone policy refuted in media that reach the American public, says Naiman.The Senate Intelligence Committee recently took an important step by passing an intelligence authorization which would require for the first time – if it became law – that the Administration publicly report on civilian casualties from U.S. drone strikes.

Sarah Knuckey, Director of the Project on Extrajudicial Executions at New York University School of Law and a Special Advisor to the UN Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial executions, calls this provision ”an important step toward improving transparency,” and notes that ”Various U.N. officials, foreign governments, a broad range of civil society, and many others, including former U.S. Department of State Legal Advisor Harold Koh … have called for the publication of such basic information.”

This provision could be offered as an amendment in the Senate to the National Defense Authorization Act. It could be offered in the House as an amendment on the intelligence authorization, or as a freestanding bill. But it’s not likely to become law unless there’s some public agitation for it (you can participate in the public agitation here.)

Forcing the Administration to publish information is crucial, because in the court of poorly informed public opinion, the Administration has gotten away with two key claims that the record of independent reporting strongly indicates are not true: 1) U.S. drone strikes are “narrowly targeted” on “top level terrorist leaders,” and 2) civilian casualties have been “extremely rare.” Poll data shows that majority public support of the drone strike policy is significantly based on belief in these two false claims; if the public knew that either of these claims were not true, public support for the policy would fall below 50%. By keeping key information secret, the Administration has been able to avoid having its two key claims in defense of the policy refuted in media that reach the broad public.

You might think that if a key reason that it’s been difficult to do anything politically in the U.S. about the drone strike policy has been the apparent public support for the policy among people who do not know that the strikes have not been ”narrowly targeted” on “top level terrorist leaders” and who do not know that civilian casualties have not been extremely rare, then if there were a proposed transparency reform that could force the Administration to disclose information that would likely contribute greatly to knowledge among the general public that these two key claims are not true, it should be a no-brainer that critics of the policy should vigorously support this reform.

Sadly, it is not, apparently, a no-brainer, because there are people who claim that transparency reforms are meaningless. And while it is tempting to try to ignore such people, they have a disproportionate impact to their numbers because most people don’t have the life experience that would enable them to easily judge between the competing claims “transparency reforms are important” and “transparency reforms are meaningless.” Our starting point is that many Americans, compared to Europeans, are politically disengaged, alienated from political engagement most of the time. So when you put out a call for people to engage Congress, you have a group of people who get it right away and take action, and a another group of people who think, “Engage Congress? Not that again,” and treat it as a huge personal sacrifice to engage Congress, like you asked them to volunteer for a root canal. These people are looking for any excuse to not take action. So if someone pops up and says, “transparency reforms are meaningless,” these people have an excuse not to take action. “Oh, this proposed reform is controversial, not everyone agrees, so I don’t have to do anything.”

To people who want to claim that transparency reforms are meaningless, I want to say this: tell it to WikiLeaks. What was the fundamental strategic idea of WikiLeaks? What was the fundamental insight that Julian Assange deeply grasped that caused him to initiate this project, at great personal risk to himself and his close collaborators? It was that governments are hiding key information that the public has the right to know, that allowing governments to continue to hide this information fundamentally undermines democratic accountability, and that forcing this information into public debate fundamentally enables democratic accountability.

Case in point: Just Foreign Policy issued a crowd-sourced reward for WikiLeaks to publish the secret negotiating text of the Trans Pacific Partnership agreement, which, among many other concerns, critics like the AARP have charged threatens the ability of the U.S. government to make medicines safe and affordable under the Affordable Care Act. This week,WikiLeaks delivered, publishing the negotiating text of the “intellectual property” chapter of the TPP, the most controversial part of the agreement, including the negotiating positions of different countries. (If you made a pledge to the reward, you can fulfill your pledge here. )

Publishing this information generated a lot of press. (Google “WikiLeaks and TPP.”) It also allowed critics of the agreement, like Public CitizenDoctors Without Borders, and theElectronic Frontier Foundation to respond directly to the TPP text in making their criticisms.

Predictably, some journalists wrote what they often write about such disclosures: that there was nothing really shocking for insiders who were closely following the issue. And, in a narrow sense, that’s not untrue. But it missed the point. In general, disclosing “secret” government policies mostly isn’t about educating journalists and other insiders who are closely following the issues. It’s about educating the broad public, which never saw this information clearly presented in major media. In a democracy, it’s hard to keep the basics of important public policies secret from well-informed people who are following closely. Official secrecy is mainly about keeping them from the broad public, because official secrecy allows the government to keep the broad public in a fog of competing claims that can’t be directly verified and are therefore never resolved in major media. Critics charge that X, but the government denies it. Who knows for sure?

The New York Times recently had an editorial in favor of the TPP. Critics complained, saying: 1) either you’re endorsing an agreement that you’ve never seen or 2) you have seen the agreement, and instead of doing journalism, you’re collaborating in keeping the public in the dark. No, we haven’t seen the agreement, the Times responded. We’re just endorsing theidea of an agreement. Never mind what the actual agreement is. That’s the kind of “public debate” you can have when the policy is secret – whether you like the official story about the policy, rather than the actual policy. (Now that part of the TPP text has been leaked, theTimes is quiet.) This is the same problem we face with the drone strike policy: people like theofficial story about the drone strike policy, in which drones are a magic super-weapon that only kills terrorist leaders and not civilians, not the actual policy, about which they have no idea.

When Edward Snowden leaked information about the NSA’s blanket surveillance on Americans, many insiders said, “Yeah, we thought the NSA was doing that, we couldn’t prove it, but no-one who follows the NSA was surprised.” But the broad public had no clue, because it had never been clearly reported where most people could see it, because critics’ claims couldn’t be directly verified. When Snowden blew the whistle, the broad public found out, and that’s why it’s plausible that Congress will now force a change in policy. And that shows that transparency matters.

Where we are now with the drone strike policy is where we were with the NSA before Snowden’s revelations: insiders know what’s going on, but the broad public doesn’t.

An illustration: earlier this week, I and others engaged in some “street lobbying” of Jeh Johnson, President Obama’s nominee to head the Department of Homeland Security. When he was previously in government, Johnson was the Pentagon’s top lawyer, and thus participated in constructing the Administration’s purported legal justifications for the drone strike policy (which still have not been fully disclosed to Congress and the public.) Now, as head of DHS, he’s not going to play that role directly. But he’s still going to have significant influence, because he’ll be in the meeting of the national security department heads, because he’s well-connected, and because, by his own account, he cares deeply about the rule of law and working to ensure that the drone strike policy transparently complies with the rule of law. I was lobbying Johnson to support the drone strike transparency bill, so that the Administration would have to disclose information about civilian casualties. He said he would look into the bill and consider it.

During the discussion, one of my colleagues challenged Johnson about a particular drone strike. Johnson gave the standard Administration defense, about people who are planning to attack the United States. I interrupted him: “That’s a small percentage of the people being killed by drone strikes.”

“That’s true,” Johnson said.

That’s true. When I called him on it, Johnson immediately conceded that the story that the drone strike policy is all about narrowly targeting people who are trying to attack the United States is basically not true. It’s true that the U.S. has tried to target some people who have attacked or tried to attack the United States. But that’s a small percentage of the people who have been killed. And so, in the main, that’s not what the drone strike policy is about; in particular, the claim that drone strikes have been “narrowly targeted” on “top level terrorist leaders” is not true. (“I believe it very likely that one of my enemies is standing in that crowd of 50 people, therefore I am going to blow up the crowd” does not constitute “narrow targeting.”)

Why would Johnson concede to me that a central Administration claim in defense of its drone strike policy is basically not true?

Because he wasn’t giving an interview to a mainstream journalist. He was just talking to some guy on a street corner who wasn’t recording what he was saying, a person who had little presumed ability to reach the broad American public, a person who could, at worst, tell some mainstream journalist what Johnson said, which Johnson could then promptly deny. He could say he was misquoted or misunderstood, and life would go on. And so we’re left with the usual fog. Critics say X, U.S. officials deny it. Who really knows what the truth is?

Johnson was having an insider conversation, conceding that which all insiders know, but which the broad public does not know: the drone strike policy is not narrowly targeted on people who are trying to attack the United States.

That’s why we need to force the Administration onto the public record to document its claims. If the Administration wants to claim that civilian casualties from drone strikes have been extremely rare, and that those killed were mainly people trying to attack the U.S., make them show us their numbers, and how they arrived at them. Pass the drone strike transparency bill.

Posted in Afghanistan, Pakistan & Kashmir, USA, Yemen0 Comments

Anti-Drone Movement Speaks: ‘End the Secrecy, No to Kill List’


‘After ten years of using drones it is about time that American citizens demand accountability from our government’

- Sarah Lazare

LIVE STREAMING: Saturday’s “Drones Around the Globe: Proliferation and Resistance,” a drone summit organized by CODEPINK.

* * *

Anti-drone activists rally in Washington, DC. (Photo: Code Pink)Activists from across the globe kicked off the largest-ever anti-drone summit Friday with a boisterous White House rally then march to the headquarters of one of the most notorious weapons manufacturers in the world.

“After ten years of using drones it is about time that American citizens demand accountability from our government,” said organizer Medea Benjamin of Code Pink in an interview withCommon Dreams. “Our government has been getting away with a covert program killing innocent people in our names. It is high time we react and say no to killings, no to secrecy, and no to a kill list.”

“Our government has been getting away with a covert program killing innocent people in our names. It is high time we react and say no to killings, no to secrecy, and no to a kill list.” —Medea Benjamin, CODEPINK

This historic gathering comes amid a growing chorus of criticism of the drone wars, now led by President Obama, following the first-ever testimony ofPakistani drone strike survivors before U.S. Congress, as well as growing concern from Amnesty InternationalHuman Rights Watch, and the United Nations over drones.

Attendees include representatives from some of the most drone-ravaged parts of the world, including Yemen, Pakistan, and Afghanistan.

After a somber ceremony at the White House to commemorate those who have died in drone strikes, scores of protesters “took over the streets” according to Benjamin and marched to the Washington, DC headquarters of General Atomics where they held a die-in.

“We re-enacted what it is like when drones terrorize a community,” said Benjamin. “We handed General Atomics a letter saying we have seen first-hand the destruction they have caused in Yemen and Pakistan. We encouraged them to stop making things that hurt people. We told them that if they feel remorse, they are welcome to give compensation to victims.”

The drone summit, which will continue over the weekend, was organized by CODEPINK, the Institute for Policy Studies, The Nation Magazine, Center for Constitutional Rights, and National Lawyers Guild (Georgetown Chapter). A group statement explains, “In addition to [a] Yemeni delegation, the Summit will include drone pilots, legal experts, human rights advocates, authors, technology experts, artists and grassroots activists.”

The gathering is expected to draw over 400 people and include a lobbying day Monday. One of the pieces of legislation that attendees will advocate for is the drone strike transparency bill, which recently passed the Senate Intelligence Committee. Advocates say this bill—which would require the Obama administration to report on civilians killed by drone strikes—is paradigm-shifting in a war where the U.S. kills with impunity behind a veil of secrecy.

“This bill is absolutely crucial,” said Robert Naiman of Just Foreign Policy in an interview withCommon Dreams. “Until now, the administration has gotten away with saying civilian casualties have been rare, but independent reporting has said the opposite.”

“We’re gathering at a time where there is an undeniable momentum against drones,” said Benjamin.

Posted in Afghanistan, Pakistan & Kashmir, USA, Yemen0 Comments

US Diplomat: Each US Drone Attack Creates ’40 to 60′ New Enemies


Former US deputy chief to US embassy in Yemen calculates ‘blowback machine’ theory of US counterterrorism is spot on

- Jon Queally

“My former colleagues are probably going to get upset with me,” says former diplomat who calls out US government for failed strategy in Yemen.The U.S. military, according to one former diplomat with a frontrow seat to its drone policy in Yemen, is creating new terrorists in that country at breakneck speed.

In an article published at TomDispatch earlier this week, the site’s editor Tom Engelhardt gave the recent and ongoing counterterrorism strategy of the U.S. military an unkind moniker by dubbing it a perpetual “blowback machine.”

In the post-9/11 world, according to Engelhardt, “wherever U.S. military power has been applied,” the consistent outcome of armed intervention—from the illegal invasion of Iraq and the NATO-backed overthrow of Gaddafi in Libya to the ongoing U.S. drone campaigns in Pakistan, Yemen and elsewhere —has been to “destabilize whole regions.”

But—despite being one of the most informed and sharply critical voices on the failure of the U.S. drone war—you don’t have to take Engelhardt’s word for it.

As the Huffington Post’s Matt Sledge reports, a former high-level U.S. State Department official in Yemen, Nabeel Khoury, is saying that for every drone strike launched by the U.S. military, as many as  “40 to 60 new enemies of America” are created.

Spurred by an article Khoury wrote for The Cairo Review slamming the misguided drone policy in Yemen, Sledge reached out to the now retired diplomat.

“My former colleagues are probably going to get upset with me, because the policy now is to do this,” Khoury said.

No military dove, Khoury told the HuffPost he was not”absolutely against the use of drones,” but added, in “any country where we’re not at war, then it has the complications of sovereignty, of popular opinion. In the end, I’m not talking about international law. I’m talking about cost-benefits.”

And the HuffPost continues:

Khoury said his estimate, while not “scientifically drawn,” was based on his knowledge of the tribal nature of Yemeni society. His concern over drone strikes is based more than anything else, he said, on the pragmatic question: Should the U.S. be creating this many future enemies?

A report released on Tuesday by Human Rights Watch found that the U.S. policy of not acknowledging drone strikes means innocent victims’ families are without the ability to seek U.S. compensation — further fueling anti-American anger.

This argument is by no means a new one—foreign policy analysts, Yemeni citizens, and knowledgeable experts have been making the same case for years. But Khoury’s role as a former insider, especially with a recent focus on the drone wars brought by a series reports from both the UN and independent human rights groups, his comments offer unique weight at a possible crucial moment.

As Engelhardt, taking a slightly broader view of U.S. imperialism and its flailing attempt to maintain military dominance and power projection, summarized:

Washington’s military plans and tactics since 9/11 have been a spectacular train wreck.  When you look back, counterinsurgency doctrine, resuscitated from the ashes of America’s defeat in Vietnam, is once again on the scrap heap of history.  (Who today even remembers its key organizing phrase — “clear, hold, and build” — which now looks like the punch line for some malign joke?)  “Surges,” once hailed as brilliant military strategy, have already disappeared into the mists.  “Nation-building,” once a term of tradecraft in Washington, is in the doghouse.  “Boots on the ground,” of which the U.S. had enormous numbers and still has 51,000 in Afghanistan, are now a no-no.  The American public is, everyone universally agrees, “exhausted” with war.  Major American armies arriving to fight anywhere on the Eurasian continent in the foreseeable future?  Don’t count on it.

But lessons learned from the collapse of war policy?  Don’t count on that, either.  It’s clear enough that Washington still can’t fully absorb what’s happened.  Its faith in war remains remarkably unbroken in a century in which military power has become the American political equivalent of a state religion.  Our leaders are still high on the counterterrorism wars of the future, even as they drown in their military efforts of the present.

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Why the Attack on Sheikh Anwar Al-Awlaki is Unacceptable!

There are certain types of articles (reports and/or commentaries) from mainstream media organizations that when re-published in Muslim media should automatically be attended by an official disclaimer (or qualifying statement on why it is being included for reader’s review). The Associated Press article below is one such example.
In reading this article, my mind traveled back to a federal courtroom in downtown Dallas during the second trial of “The Holy Land 5.” I remember feeling a sense of outrage when one of the defense attorneys stated, in her closing arguments, “We all know that Hamas is a terrorist organization.” After the proceedings ended, and again later that same day, I voiced my opposition to that line of argument on two grounds: (1) it is patently false; (2) in a post-9/11 world where committed Muslims have been officially made the new boogeymen on the block, it is a profoundly short-sighted and counterproductive courtroom strategy to make!
As in the present case involving Dr. Ali Al-Timimi , the attorneys representing the brothers in Dallas were a seasoned mix - and contracted by the Muslim Legal Fund of America (MLFA). In the end, however, the strategic mind-set behind that pronouncement may have been a major factor in why the brothers were ultimately found guilty of a manufactured offense that they never should have been put on trial for in the first place! The jury saw a connection between HLF and HAMAS; and since both the prosecution and the defense recognized Hamas as “terrorist,” guilty as charged became a forgone conclusion.
Now we have the appeals hearing for Ali Al-Tamimi in another US courthouse in Northern Virgina; with yet another seasoned attorney, Jonathan Turley, making the argument that the late Anwar Al-Awlaki may have been a government informant. And once again we have this writer feeling a sense of outrage on two counts: (1) the accusation flies in the face of the character of the Anwar Al-Awlaki that many of us knew; (2) and he is no longer with us to defend himself. Does that matter? Yes!

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Was US Born Cleric Anwar Al-Awlaki a Government Informant?



Lawyers for a Muslim scholar convicted in 2005 of soliciting treason on Friday pressed a judge to order prosecutors to disclose information they believe could show that American-born al-Qaida leader Anwar al-Awlaki was once a government informant.


Ali Al-Timimi of Fairfax was the spiritual leader for a group of northern Virginia Muslims who played paintball to train for holy war. He was convicted and sentenced to life in prison for exhorting some of them to join the Taliban and fight against the U.S. after the Sept. 11 attacks. Several of them got as far as Pakistan, training with a militant group called Lashkar-e-Taiba.
Al-Timimi’s lawyers said Friday at a hearing in U.S. District Court in Alexandria that they are suspicious about a 2002 visit al-Awlaki paid to al-Timimi. The defense now suspects al-Awlaki, who has since been killed, went there as an informant to get incriminating information on al-Timimi. If so, they say al-Awlaki’s role as an informant should have been disclosed at trial.
At the meeting, al-Awlaki purportedly tried to get al-Timimi’s help in recruiting men for jihad, but al-Timimi rejected him. Al-Timimi’s lawyer, Jonathan Turley, said government documentation of the meeting would refute the case made at trial by prosecutors that al-Timimi was urging Muslims to fight. They also say it would show that al-Timimi had been in the government’s crosshairs back in 2002, which would have contradicted other testimony that the government did not begin investigating al-Timimi until 2003.
The suspicions about al-Awlaki stem from newly discovered information that FBI agents involved in Al-Timimi’s case may have facilitated al-Awlaki’s return to the United States in 2002. Al-Awlaki had been imam of a northern Virginia mosque at the time of the 2001 attacks but left the U.S. shortly thereafter.
He had contact with some of the Sept. 11 hijackers, and in years after the 2001 attacks emerged as a top al-Qaida leader before being killed in a drone strike in 2011. There has been debate as to whether al-Awlaki hid long-held al-Qaida sympathies in his time in the U.S. or radicalized after leaving the years after Sept. 11.
Also released earlier this year were FBI documents showing that agents observed al-Awlaki in 2001 and 2002 hiring prostitutes, but never brought charges against him.
Prosecutors say they’ve turned over everything required of them. In court papers and at Friday’s hearing, they gave no information on whether al-Awlaki may have been an informant. Instead, they say they are only obligated to turn over information that would assist the defense, and said the law gives prosecutors the discretion to make that determination.
The law “does not entitle any defendant to the disclosure of the extent and nature of the government’s investigative tools or tactics simply because he suspects that materials are in the government’s possession that might prove interesting to him,” prosecutor Gordon Kromberg wrote.
U.S. District Judge Leonie Brinkema said she will issue a written ruling later on the motion, but expressed doubt about the defense requests. She said she was persuaded in part because of secret evidence the government submitted in the case, which even Turley, who holds a security clearance, has not been allowed to see.
Al-Timimi attended Friday’s hearing but did not speak, wearing a jail jumpsuit and sporting long hair and a beard significantly grayer than at his 2005 trial.

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American airstrikes in Yemen kill more civilians than terrorists – HRW report

People gather at the site of a drone strike on the road between Yafe and Radfan districts of the southern Yemeni province of Lahj August 11, 2013. (Reuters)People gather at the site of a drone strike on the road between Yafe and Radfan districts of the southern Yemeni province of Lahj August 11, 2013. (Reuters).

A new report by Human Rights Watch once again confirms that Hellfire rockets lack selectivity and exterminate women and children more often than they hit Al-Qaeda associates. Last month the UN urged the US to reveal data on civilian drone casualties.

The prominent human rights organization has released a detailed 102-page report on the US drone attacks and airstrikes in Yemen against militants of the Al-Qaeda wing in the country simultaneously with another human rights organization Amnesty International issuing a report on US drone strikes in Pakistan.

Basically, the HRW report has maintained an already widely-known fact that civilians die too often in reported ‘surgical’ strikes which is unacceptable even by the ‘law of war’.

“The US has launched about 80 targeted killing operations in Yemen since 2009,” claims Humans Rights Watch Senior Researcher Letta Tayler.

Still, the HRW report considers only six of them, one of which took place in 2009, and other five occurring in 2012-2013. These six attacks claimed the lives of 82 people, 57 of whom – or practically 70 percent – were civilians.

According to one of the two the UN reports on drones issued in September, “the first remotely piloted aircraft strike reported in Yemen occurred on November 3, 2002, in an operation aimed at killing a suspect in the bombing of the USS Cole in February 2000.”

After that there were no drone strikes in Yemen till May 2011, when a failed attempt to kill cleric Anwar Awlaki, a dual Yemeni and American citizen, took place.

Several months later, in September 2011, a drone killed Awlaki anyway, opening the way to dozens of ‘target killings’ done by both military and special services, such as the CIA, drones. The total fatalities in Yemen drone warfare estimated by the UN are “between 268 and 393.”

The deadliest of those airstrikes that came into the HRW’s spotlight was probably not the work of drones at all. It occurred in a village of Al-Majalah on December 17, 2009, where alleged US Navy cruise missiles (too big to be fired from a UAV) dropped cluster bombs on a Bedouin village, killing 14 alleged militants along with 41 civilians, including nine women and 21 children. Only five people survived.

“I have a question for America: Despite having drones and spy planes and all of this technology, can’t America differentiate between a terrorist and an innocent civilian?” told the HRW Moqbil Muhammad Ali, who lost 28 relatives in the attack on Al-Majalah village.

So far American strikes to eliminate militants have practically always been accompanied by civilian casualties, despite President Barack Obama promising to avoid them.

“And before any strike is taken, there must be near certainty that no civilians would be killed or injured, the highest standard we can set,” the HRW quoted President Barack Obama as saying.

“President Obama says the US is doing its utmost to protect civilians from harm in these strikes. Yet in the six cases we examined, at least two were a clear violation of the laws of war,” commented Tayler.

The HRW report also points out that civilian casualties actually work against the US efforts to decrease the terror threat in Yemen.

“Should the United States continue targeted killings in Yemen without addressing the consequences of killing civilians and taking responsibility for unlawful deaths, it risks further angering many Yemenis and handing another recruiting card to AQAP [Al-Qaeda in the Arab Peninsula]. In response to these killings, AQAP has issued statements accusing the United States of fighting a war not just against Al-Qaeda, but against all Muslims. Residents have set up roadblocks and held demonstrations in which they chant anti-US slogans,” the report reads.

Among cases mentioned in the HRW report is an attack that happened on September 2, 2012, when a US strike on a vehicle in a central Yemeni city of Radaa killed 12 civilians, including three children and a pregnant woman, while the intended target, a tribal leader named Abd Raouf Dahab, was nowhere near the vehicle.

Another airstrike took place on January 23, 2013, killing two alleged militants in a Yemeni village of Al-Masnaah, but again with two confirmed civilian victims.

According to the HRW report, civilians who have absolutely no contacts with terrorists sometimes die trying to earn some money and giving a lift to strangers who turn out to be militants. In that case when an airstrike is launched against such vehicles, missiles destroy the cars with everyone inside.

Protesters loyal to the Shi'ite al-Houthi rebel group burn an effigy of a U.S. aircraft during a demonstration to protest against what they say is U.S. interference in Yemen, including drone strikes, after their weekly Friday prayers in the Old Sanaa city April 12, 2013. (Reuters/Khaled Abdullah )Protesters loyal to the Shi’ite al-Houthi rebel group burn an effigy of a U.S. aircraft during a demonstration to protest against what they say is U.S. interference in Yemen, including drone strikes, after their weekly Friday prayers in the Old Sanaa city April 12, 2013. (Reuters/Khaled Abdullah ).

Also witnesses questioned by the HRW very often mention the fact that victims of airstrikes were not simply mutilated, but also charred beyond recognition, which raises a question about possible thermobaric nature of the warheads used in the US missiles.

One modification of the Hellfire rockets in the US possession, AGM-114N, has a thermobaric warhead.

The Human Rights Watch group does not question America’s right to eliminate its enemies in ‘targeted killing’ strikes without a court ruling, but calls to minimize civilian casualties in the process.

“President Obama should acknowledge these strikes and the US should ensure that it is following the law and President Obama’s policies on targeted killings so that civilians are not unnecessarily killed in these strikes,” Tayler said.

Washington has always insisted that its lethal drone strikes abroad, in countries like Pakistan and Yemen, are fully legitimate, being conducted within the framework of the ‘War on Terror’ against terrorist organizations such as Al-Qaeda and its associates.

In September, British barrister and UN special rapporteur on counter-terrorism Ben Emmerson, the author of second of two latest UN reports on the use of drones, accused the CIA of creating the ‘almost invariably classified’ atmosphere around the special forces drone operations in Yemen.

Drone strikes are being made these days on an ‘accountability vacuum’ condition, Emmerson claimed, demanding a full public investigation into the civilian casualties issue be launched, even if it demands certain “redactions on grounds of national security.”

The CIA’s own estimates of civilian deaths in Yemen due to drone strikes, according to the UN report, confirming no more than 58 civilian casualties at the highest.

Legal Director of the human rights charity Reprieve, representing civilian victims of drone strikes, Kat Craig, told the Bureau of Investigative Journalism that the UN report by Ben Emmerson “highlights the US’ failure to reveal any information whatsoever about their shadowy, covert drone program. Hiding the reality of civilian deaths is not only morally abhorrent, but an affront to the sort of transparency that should be the hallmark of any democratic government. Some basic accountability is the very least people in Pakistan and Yemen should expect from the CIA as it rains down Hellfire missiles on their homes and villages.”

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Tribes Still Rule in Yemen

Tribal fighters loyal to al-Ahmar family, which leads Yemen’s powerful Hashid tribe, carry their AK-47 rifles as they secure a street where clashes with government forces took place in Sanaa, Dec. 21, 2011. (photo by REUTERS/Khaled Abdullah)

A few weeks ago, the period specified for the Yemeni National Dialogue Conference ended. After information about what happened at the conference was leaked — most notably, talks about adopting a federal system for the new state — President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi met with Yemen’s tribal alliance, headed by tribal sheikh Sadek al-Ahmar. Hadi sought reassurances that Yemen’s unity will not be touched following the tribes’ opposition to dividing the country into regions. But Hadi said nothing — didn’t even give a speech — to the civil forces that have serious reservations about what happened at the dialogue.

The tribal sheikhs — and not the tribe members themselves — have been directing Yemeni politics more than any other social or political force. Although these sheikhs are involved in and lead many influential political parties, they also engage in political work outside the framework of these parties. They think that they have the right to do what other citizens don’t. They sometimes work outside the context of, and sometimes in opposition to, the political parties that they joined only to use as tools to perpetuate their tribal power, and not as civil political groups whose members are equal.

This attitude is also evidenced by how they deal with others. At the start of the current youth revolution and at the end of 2012, Sheikh Mohammed bin Naji al-Shaef, the head of the Rights and Freedoms committee in the Yemeni parliament, attacked the current unity government’s Prime Minister Mohammad Salem Basendwah for being “Somali,” which means he doesn’t descend from a Yemeni tribal family that would grant him a status appreciated by the tribal sheikhs.

Decades after the Yemeni revolution of September 1962, the tribes’ control over state institutions remains unchanged. The sheikhs have continued control of the legislature as a tradition. As much as 58% of the 1969 parliament’s seats were tribal sheikhs (headed by the powerful leader Abdullah al-Ahmar). That proportion never went below 50%. Ahmar headed parliament from 1993 until his death in 2007. Five of his children are still parliamentary members, representing about 2% of parliament. The parliament speaker to succeed Ahmar was Yehyia al-Rahi, also an influential tribal sheikh and a major-general in the army.

The history of the tribes’ control

After the tribal forces split among the warring parties (Republicans versus monarchists, and some fought as mercenaries) in the revolution, and after the founding of a special government institution that caters to their interests and gaining access to huge amounts of money and weapons, the sheikhs became a lobby that appoints and dismisses government employees at will, starting with the president.

In 1967, they participated in replacing the first president of the republic, Abdullah al-Sallal, with Abdul Rahman al-Iryani, whom they overthrew in 1974 and replaced with Ibrahim al-Hamdi, who was assassinated in October 1977. They supported President Ali Abdullah Saleh in 1978, until they took control the revolution that overthrew him in 2012 after a continuous, three-decade alliance between the tribes and the Saleh regime. The tribes always fought alongside the army, as in the war of summer 1994 against the Socialist Party, the government wars in Saada against the Houthis (2004-2010) and then the army’s war against al-Qaeda in Abyan (2011-2012), although the tribes’ participation took a different form in the latter. For each war, the tribes reaped the benefits of their labor.

Business advantages and the new generation’s struggle

Sheikh Abdullah bin Hussein al-Ahmar had enjoyed a special status as the unofficial Yemeni president (some even called him the “maker of presidents”). In in 1993, he was head of parliament, the head of the largest Islamic party, the sheikh of the most powerful Yemeni tribe and the main link with Yemen’s influential neighbor Saudi Arabia. In the mid-1990s, his son Hamid al-Ahmar suddenly became a business giant by taking advantage of his father’s influence to secure special privileges and deals. He became the owner of the first mobile telecommunications company, the biggest shareholder of Saba Islamic Bank and an agent for a number of international companies.

Hamid monopolized Yemeni oil sales as the exclusive agent of the English Arcadia Petroleum company. That lasted till 2009, when the decision was made to form a special committee to sell Yemeni oil by auction to various competitors. Behind that decision was the son of former president Ali Abdullah Saleh, Brig. Gen. Ahmed Ali Saleh, the former commander of the Republican Guard and the arch-foe of Hamid al-Ahmar.

Other companies started to compete for the purchase of Yemeni oil via local agents who were also sons of sheikhs, such as al-Shaef and Abu Lahhoum, or from Saleh’s relatives, such as his nephew Yehia Saleh and the son of Maj. Gen. Ali Mohsen al-Ahmar.

This new auction mechanism cost the sheikh/trader/politician Hamid al-Ahmar tens of millions of dollars that he had come to expect by monopolizing the oil sales and selling oil for less than the world price.

At the same time, a disagreement emerged between Hamid and Saleh about a deal around a communications network in Sudan worth tens of millions of dollars, resulting in Saleh’s intervention to make the deal with Shaher Abdel Haq, another of Saleh’s allies and a rival of Hamid. Saleh tried to placate Hamid by offering him tens of millions in compensation for the latter losing the Sudan deal, but Hamid returned the check.

Those deals were a big slap in the face from Saleh and his son Ahmed to their “ally” Hamid al-Ahmar, who was no longer their ally after he took political positions against what he considered plans by Saleh to pass on the reins of power to his son Ahmad. This is how the struggle started between the sons among the ruins of their fathers’ decades-old alliance.

New tools for tribal conflict

After his fiery anti-Saleh statement demanding that he step down and accusing him of inciting wars and strife and trying to bequeath power to his son and committing treason, an Al-Jazeera achor asked Sheikh Hamid al-Ahmar, “Don’t you fear returning to Yemen after what you’ve said?” He responded, “Anyone behind whom stands the Hashid tribe and Sheikh Sadeq al-Ahmar is not afraid.” Former President Saleh belongs to the Hashid tribe, which is led by al-Ahmar family.

Afterward, Hamid adopted modern tools in his conflict with Saleh and his son. Hamid formed political alliances that included the Preparatory Committee for National Dialogue (a different committee from the one for the current dialogue), which included prominent leaders of Yemen’s opposition, including the head of the current government, who supported many newspapers and journalists that opposed Saleh. He then launched the Suhail satellite TV channel, which was devoted to attacking Saleh and his son.

At the same time, Hamid’s brother Sheikh Hussein al-Ahmar formed the National Solidarity Council, which recently became a party. Also, his other brother Sheikh Sadiq headed the Alliance of Yemeni Tribes. All those were entities that opposed Saleh, and they operated under the auspices of the largest tribal family in Yemen.

Despite the efforts of Saleh, his son and the tribal leaders loyal to him in forming counter-entities (media outlets, political parties and organizations), they didn’t have the same effectiveness as those supported by the al-Ahmar family, which employed capabilities and personnel of the oppositionist Joint Meeting Parties, especially the Reform Party.

In 2009, Hamid al-Ahmar met the US ambassador in Sanaa and told him that he planned to overthrow Saleh by supporting the unrest in the north and south and by organizing demonstrations by attracting Mohsen and winning the support of Saudi Arabia, at a time when Saleh was at his weakest, according to leaked WikiLeaks documents.

In January 2011, Yemeni youth took to the squares to demand Saleh’s departure. But the independent youths were not organized and didn’t have sufficient means for a revolution. So the tribe used its influence and its alliances: Hamid al-Ahmar provided money and directed the youths to the squares until his Reform party dominated the revolution organizationally and in the media, especially after Mohsen joined the revolution and made an alliance with Sheikh Ahmar against Saleh. And so history repeated itself in Yemen: A tribe and its allies have controlled every revolution in the country’s modern history.

The honorary shields of the youth revolution

On the first anniversary of Saleh’s departure from power (February 2013), the organization of the revolution’s youths presented five honorary shields in its name to post-Saleh leaders. One shield was given to the president of the republic and one was for the prime minister. The remaining three shields went to Mohsen and to the brothers Sheikh Sadeq al-Ahmar and Sheikh Hamid al-Ahmar. Those five shields comprise 60% of the new revolution’s honorary shields that have been granted.

Ironically, the revolution originally opposed Saleh by accusing him of acting as an umbrella for the same traditional and tribal forces that the revolution later honored with the revolution’s shields.

The tribal areas of Marib, Shabwa, Radaa, Amran and other areas of Yemen are hotbeds of security disturbances, assassinations and sabotage of public interests. Despite that, the sheikhs of these tribes receive monthly stipends from the state budget via the Tribal Affairs department and other channels. The same thing was happening before 2011.

Tribalism remains the sole driver of politics in Yemen, taking advantage of the international support for the Gulf Initiative, which Yemeni parties have used to reposition themselves.

Farea al-Muslimi is a columnist for Al-Monitor. He is a Yemeni youth activist, writer and freelancer. His work has appeared in The National, Foreign Policy, As Safir and many other regional and international media outlets.

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Dead at Only 24, Yemeni Anti-Drone and Pro-Democracy Activist Left Legacy of Peace and Justice


Ibrahim Mothana (1988-2013); ‘As surely as he will be missed, his work and his example will continue to inspire his colleagues, friends, and compatriots’

- Jon Queally

Friends and colleagues of Yemen social justice campaigner and political activist Ibrahim Mothana have been expressing shock, sadness and loss over the early death of the 24-old-man who died in Sanaa on Thursday.

Ibrahim Mothana (10/23/1988 – 9/5/2013)Known internationally as a voice for the peaceful pro-democracy uprising in Yemen that began in 2011 and as a tireless critic of the U.S. drone campaign that has terrorized his country in recent years, Mothana was both a co-founder of the Wantan Party in Yemen and an international spokesperson for what many term the “New Yemen” envisioned by many of its citizens, especially the youth.

The cause of his death was not being reported, nor were those expressing grief discussing the circumstances.

In announcing Mothana’s passing, the Yemen Peace Project, released astatement, which read in part:

A recital of his resumé does not do Ibrahim justice, though. He was 24 years old, and as someone of that age should, he defined himself by what he hoped and planned to do, rather than what he had already done. Ibrahim was devoted to his country, and he saw in Yemen as much potential as we all saw in him. Though a harsh and realistic critic of Yemen’s flaws, Ibrahim believed in the idea of a New Yemen, which he and so many other revolutionaries struggled for. His hopefulness for his country was pragmatic; he understood better than most what it would take to build the Yemen he imagined.

For everyone who knew him, it is hard to imagine the New Yemen without Ibrahim. But just as surely as he will be missed, his work and his example will continue to inspire his colleagues, friends, and compatriots through the difficult years to come.

From Western journalists like Jeremy Scahill and Iona Craig who spent time with him in Yemen to other leading Yemen activists like Farea Al-muslimi who worked closely with him, the loss of Mothana was being expressed in heartfelt posts on Twitter:

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