Archive | Yemen

Yemen army kills Wahhabi Saudi terrorists in Shabwah

NOVANEWS
Yemeni army forces fight al-Qaeda militants in Shabwah province. (File photo)
Yemeni army forces fight al-Qaeda militants in Shabwah province. (File photo)
Yemeni army troops have killed two Saudi members of al-Qaeda in the south of the country, the Defense Ministry says.

The ministry said on its website on Saturday that the Yemeni soldiers killed “two Saudi terrorists, Ibrahim Hamad and Ahmed al-Harbi,” in the town of Azzan, in Shabwah province.

The army forces said they captured Azzan after carrying out an operation on April 29 but sporadic clashes continued with militants still holed up in houses there, witnesses said.

The focus of the army’s offensive has been on the provinces of Abyan, Shabwah, and the neighboring province of al-Bayda.

Meanwhile, a military official was quoted by Yemeni media as saying that “al-Qaeda members are still being hunted” and the operation “will continue until they are cleared.”

On Thursday, Yemeni President Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi vowed to eliminate al-Qaeda militants.

Yemeni military forces have waged an offensive in the country’s southern Shabwa province, killing 37 suspected al-Qaeda militants, most of them terrorists from Saudi Arabia, Chechnya, Somalia and Afghanistan.

Al-Qaeda loyalists have carried out a spate of deadly attacks against Yemeni security forces since Abdu Rabbu Mansour Hadi, Ali Abdullah Saleh’s successor, came to power in February 2012.

On August 31, 2013, Yemeni Prime Minister Mohammed Salim Basindawa escaped an assassination attempt by unknown gunmen, who opened fire on his convoy in the capital Sana’a.

Yemen is located on the tip of the Arabian Peninsula and is among the poorest countries in the region.

 

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How Many Have We Killed?

NOVANEWS

The wreckage of a car destroyed by a US drone strike in Azan, Yemen, February 2013. (Photo: Khaled Abdullah/Reuters/Corbis)On Monday, The New York Times reported that “the Senate has quietly stripped a provision from an intelligence bill that would have required President Obama to make public each year the number of people killed or injured in targeted killing operations in Pakistan and other countries where the United States uses lethal force.” National security officials in the Obama administration objected strongly to having to notify the public of the results and scope of their dirty work, and the Senate acceded. So much for what President Obama has called “the most transparent administration in history.”

The Senate’s decision is particularly troubling in view of how reticent the administration itself continues to be about the drone program. To date, Obama has publicly admitted to the deaths of only four people in targeted killing operations. That came in May 2013, when, in conjunction with a speech at the National Defense University, and, in his words, “to facilitate transparency and debate on the issue,” President Obama acknowledged for the first time that the United States had killed four Americans in drone strikes. But according to credible accounts, Obama has overseen the killing of several thousand people in drone strikes since taking office. Why only admit to the four Americans’ deaths? Is the issue of targeted killings only appropriate for debate when we kill our own citizens? Don’t all human beings have a right to life?

In the NDU speech, President Obama also announced new limits on the use of drones “beyond the Afghan theater.” He proclaimed that drone strikes would be authorized away from the battlefield only when necessary to respond to “continuing and imminent threats” posed by people who cannot be captured or otherwise countermanded. Most important, he said, “before any strike is taken, there must be near-certainty that no civilians will be killed or injured—the highest standard we can set.” Yet in December, a US drone strike in Yemen reportedly struck a wedding party. The New York Times reported that while some of the victims may have been linked to al-Qaeda, the strike killed “at least a half dozen innocent people, according to a number of tribal leaders and witnesses.”

The decision to drop the requirement to report on the number of people we kill in drone strikes fittingly if depressingly came on the ten-year anniversary of CBS’s airing of the photos of torture and prisoner abuse at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq. To this day, the United States has not held accountable any senior official for torture inflicted during the “war on terror”—not at Abu Ghraib, not at Guantanamo, not at Bagram Air Force Base, and not in the CIA’s secret prisons, or “black sites.” President Obama has stuck to his commitment to look forward, not backward, and his administration has opposed all efforts to hold the perpetrators of these abuses to account. Indeed, the administration has classified even the memories of the survivors of torture in CIA black sites, now housed at Guantanamo, maintaining that they and their lawyers cannot under any circumstance even talk publically about their mistreatment.

To be fair, Obama deserves some credit for both banning torture and achieving some transparency on the subject. In one of his first acts as president, he formally prohibited the “enhanced interrogation techniques” that his predecessor had approved—and that Bush and Cheney both proudly proclaim in their memoirs they would approve all over again. Shortly thereafter, Obama declassified the chilling secret memoranda, drafted by various Justice Department lawyers in the Bush Administration, that were designed to give legal cover to the CIA’s torture program. And most recently, in March, Obama said that he thinks that the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence report on the CIA’s interrogation program, the only comprehensive review based on access to classified information to date of the agency’s treatment of prisoners, should be declassified and released to the public. (The committee has voted to declassify and release a six hundred-page executive summary from the 6,300 page report, and it is now up to the president to live up to his statement and declassify it.)

But it’s one thing to demand transparency for a predecessor’s wrongs. It’s another to support it in regard to one’s own dubious actions. In the past, some have argued that the United States cannot be transparent about targeted killings in countries like Pakistan and Yemen because their governments approved of our use of lethal force within their borders on the condition that we not admit that we were doing so. The morality of such an agreement is itself deeply questionable; presumably the plausible deniability is demanded because no government could openly admit to its people that it had given another sovereign the green light to kill by remote control inside its own borders. But the deniability is no longer plausible.

As long ago as September, 2012, the Yemeni President Abed Raboo Mansour Hadi disclosed that he signed off on every US drone strike in Yemen, and in April 2013, former Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf similarly admitted that his government had agreed to targeted killings in Pakistan. Following the strike on the Yemeni wedding party last December, the government there conceded that civilians were killed, provided reparations to the survivors, and suspended permission to the United States to conduct further drone strikes until the incident was investigated. But the US has not even publicly acknowledged its own involvement—namely, as the killer.

International law acknowledges that killing is not always illegal or wrong, and that a government has the authority to do so as a last resort in genuine self-defense. But if the US government’s targeted killings are lawful, we should have no hesitation in making them public. Surely the least we can do is to literally count and report the lives we’ve taken. Yet even that, for “the most transparent administration in history,” is apparently too much.

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Drone Attacks Bring Yemeni Government to Brink of No Confidence Vote

NOVANEWS

Yemeni parliamentarians are today challenging the legitimacy of President Hadi’s government, following the administration’s failure to stop repeated US drone attacks.

MPs are planning a vote of no confidence if President Hadi’s ministers do not attend parliament to answer questions on the drone program; some are calling for an immediate dissolution of the government.

The parliament’s attack on the Hadi administration follows a particularly deadly drone strike on Al Bayda on April 19, in which Reprieve has discovered that four builders were killed on their way to work, leaving 20 children without fathers. The Yemeni government has admitted that their killing was a mistake.

The strike violated last December’s parliamentary resolution banning the use of drones on Yemeni territory. Yemeni lawmakers are furious that the administration has repeatedly failed to enforce the ban, and that President Hadi’s Minister of Defence, Minister of the Interior and Minister of Oil have refused to attend several parliamentary meetings on the subject.

Shawki al-Qadhi, an MP in the Yemeni parliament and a member of the parliament’s Committee on Freedoms and Human Rights said: “How can we talk about the rule of law when another country kills our citizens without charge or trial? How can we talk about governance when Parliament’s resolutions are ignored by the both the US and Yemeni administrations? We Yemenis are the people who suffer most from the unrest in our country, and as we have heard recently, the majority of people causing the unrest are foreigners who come from outside Yemen. We would obviously welcome external help in dealing with the problem, but only if Yemen has clear agreements and control over what takes place. As MPs we have a responsibility to protect our constituents and to uphold the values of our country. Drones undermine both. Our citizens are less safe with drones in the air– not only are they vulnerable to mistaken targeting but we have seen time and time again that when civilians are killed, it immediately swells the ranks of the armed groups. We even lack a clear law about compensating the families of the victims, which is something we urgently need. Drones are undermining our nascent democratic institutions.”

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Yemeni protesters call for independence of south

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Thousands of people have taken to the streets in Yemen’s port city of Mukalla, calling for the independence of the southern parts of the country.

Pro-independence protesters took part in the rally, which was organized by the Southern Movement, on Sunday.

A similar protest was also held in the city of Aden, with security forces preventing the protesters from reaching the main square, according to witnesses.

North and South Yemen unified in 1990 after the southern government collapsed. However, four years later, the south tried to break away and this led to a civil war. The conflict ended with northern troops taking control of the south after winning the war.

“This rally is a message addressed to the world saying that the south is under occupation,” said activist Basser Bakazkuz.

In February, the Yemeni government disclosed a plan to transform the Arab country into a state of six regions.

Politicians in southern Yemen are opposed to the plan. They say four provinces in the north would have more powerful than the two in the south.

The idea of creating a federal system has been a part of Yemen’s political transition, as the country is still reeling from the popular uprising that forced longtime dictator Ali Abdullah Saleh out of office in February 2012.

Yemen’s southern residents complain that they have been economically and politically marginalized by the central government in Sana’a.

The Southern Movement also calls for autonomy or the complete independence of the south.

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Questions That Should Be Asked About Recent Operations, Including Drone Strikes, in Yemen

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Instead of asking the most important questions, most US journalists and media outlets simply regurgitate statements and claims made by US and Yemeni officials. (File graphic)How much of the drone war being waged by the United States in Yemen is targeting actual al Qaeda fighters? And how much of it is targeting fighters, who are opposed to the current regime led by President Abdu Rabbu Mansour Hadi?

In three days, three possible drone strikes launched apparently in cooperation with Yemeni forces has killed anywhere from 38 to 55 people. Anywhere from three to eight of those people were reportedly civilians yet, thus far, the identities of the other people killed have not been confirmed.

According to data from news reports compiled by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism (TBIJ), on April 19, two cars were hit by a US drone in the southeastern province of al Bayda. All reports “described an attack on a vehicle carrying alleged militants, in which a separate vehicle full of civilians was also hit.”

On April 20, alleged Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) training camps were targeted and hit by a “series of air strikes.” Officials would not disclose whether US drones were involved.

The Ministry of Interior claimed in a statement that “air strikes, which lasted for several hours, killed around terrorists from al Qaeda, including three movement leaders.”  The “dead suspected militants” were Salem Abedrabbo al Mushaybi, Hussein al Mehrak and Saleh Saeed Mehrak.

During a third straight day of strikes, “an ambush by the Yemen Army’s Counter-Terrorism Unit with US Special Forces support or a drone strike followed by a Special Forces ground operation to retrieve bodies of suspected senior militants” was carried out. “Yemeni security officials and tribal chiefs reportedly said ‘a local militant commander’, Munnaser al Anbouri, was killed in the attack.”

Media organizations seemed to presume that “Nasser al-Wuhayshi, the head of Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, based in Yemen, and Ibrahim al-Asiri, the group’s “master bomb maker” were probably targeted and possibly even killed. That would explain the escalation in operations in the country. However, “the bodies of some militants who were killed,” according to NBC News, were flown to the capital, Sanaa, for DNA testing and no top-ranking leader had been identified yet.

The NBC News report from Jim Miklaszewski, Richard Engel, Courtney Kube and James Novogrod is remarkable for how clearly it is stenography, a regurgitation of an official statement from an unnamed official in Yemen. The headline for the story is “Yemen Killed 40 Al-Qaeda Militants With US Drone Help.” None of the words are appropriately placed in quotes. The headline is not “Yemeni Official Says Yemen Killed 40 Al-Qaeda Militants With US Drone Help.” Statements which are impossible to confirm are accepted as true.

This is how the unnamed Yemeni official described the “counterterrorism operations” to NBC News:

—The first phase began Saturday morning, with an airstrike on a militant vehicle that the official said was part of a terrorist training camp. The source said 10 militants were killed along with three civilians. Five civilians were hurt.

— In the second phase, the camp itself was hit by airstrikes — three of them, from the predawn Sunday until after daybreak. The camp was not a “brick-and-mortar facility,” the official said, but had vehicles and weapons caches. At least 24 militants were killed.

— In the third phase, Yemeni commandos raided suspected high-value al Qaeda targets believed to be leaders of al Qaeda’s Yemen affiliate. Identification was still underway, but the Yemeni source said it did not appear any top militants were killed.

Ryan Goodman of Just Security noted how the ongoing actions may have been against people who posed no imminent threat to the United States but were considered by Yemeni officials to be threats to their government:

…First, according to Yemeni officials, recent actions were in response to a threat to civilian and military installations at least in Bayda province…The statement by the state news agency also added that the militants killed in the strike were responsible for the assassination of Bayda’s deputy governor on April 15. Those sound more like fighting an insurgency rather than fighting AQAP’s direct threat to the United States. Second, the strikes were described as a joint U.S.-Yemen operation by the Yemeni official who spoke to CNN. And he explained that Yemeni troops would have faced heavy losses if they had attempted a ground assault themselves…

Five “security/military” officers have apparently been assassinated since yesterday following the three strikes, according to Iona Craig, a journalist based in Yemen. To what extent are their deaths a part of the cycle of violence?

Then, there is the reality that these operations undertaken with support from US drones infuriate and upset Yemenis. When civilians are killed, “tribesmen” are driven to join up with AQAP or any of its associated groups, which the US keeps classified and does not want the public to know.

Yemeni political scientist Abdulghani al-Iryani recently told Reuters that the sharp escalation in the “number of al Qaeda elements” since drones first started to bomb Yemen in 2003—from a “few hundred” to “several thousand”—is partly fueled by the “fact that both the Yemeni and the US governments have relied too heavily on the use of drones.” Not adopting a “proper, comprehensive approach” to systemic problems in Yemen has “contributed to the expansion of al Qaeda.

That basic coverage of events would not mention or give a nod to these dynamics at all is at best negligent. Also, there should be some mention of the secrecy, which enables the government to wage drone war without accountability for what is happening before, during and after operations when people are killed.

No formal agreement on drones apparently exists between the US and Yemen—or at least that is what unnamed Yemeni officials have claimed.

According to Human Rights Watch, a Yemeni government official, as well as a senior Yemeni government official under Saleh, told the organization when it was investigating an attack that hit a wedding convoy last December that they were unaware of any signed agreement between Yemen and the United States on drone strikes. However, “there is a gentlemen’s agreement,” the current official said.

One might recall a now-infamous US diplomatic cable published by WikiLeaks and released by Chelsea Manning. It indicated in early January 2010 Saleh and then-CENTCOM commander General David Petraeus had a meeting. Saleh assured Petraeus the Yemen government would continue to say “the bombs are ours, not yours.” The Yemen government would cover up attacks to help the US keep them secret. And, though Saleh expressed concern about the inaccuracy of the missiles and the number of civilians killed, this would enable the US to avoid scrutiny and accountability for its counterterrorism operations.

What the arrangement also did was allow Saleh to take credit for operations in his country and make it seem like he had the capacity and strength to respond to arising conflicts and violence. This seems to continue, as the New York Times’ Eric Schmitt quoted “American officials” who “sought to play down the United States’ role and to allow” Hadi to “bolster his domestic credibility and claim credit for the operations.”

Claiming credit means being able to deceive the Yemeni population, which might be outraged to learn about more US drone strikes. But, as the operations have been undertaken, it is fairly clear that the US has encouraged Yemeni government officials to create this deception that they were leading these operations. US forces, including drones, only provided a little assistance.

Is that the truth? Would any of this recent offensive been possible without US forces engaged in covert operations? Where is the lack of skepticism toward reports about who exactly was killed when it can be discerned that both Yemeni and US officials do not know?

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Leaked Docs Show Govt Deceit over US Drone Attacks

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Official document records 330 drone strikes in Pakistan

by Alice K. Ross

Missing from the record – grandmother Mamana Bibi’s civilian status is not recorded in the document.The Bureau is now publishing a leaked official document that records details of over 300 drone strikes, including their locations and an assessment of how many people died in each incident.

Last July the Bureau published part of the document for the first time. This documented strikes, which hit the northwest tribal areas of Pakistan between 2006 and late 2009, and revealed that the Pakistani government was aware of hundreds of civilian casualties, even in strikes where it had officially denied civilians had died.

The reports are based on information filed to the FATA Secretariat each evening by local Political Agents – senior officials in the field. These agents gather the information from networks of informants in Pakistan’s Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), the area bordering Afghanistan.

Now the Bureau has obtained an updated version of the document, which lists attacks up to late September 2013.

Read the secret document here

The document contains estimates of how many people have been killed in each strike, as well as whether the dead are ‘local’ or ‘non-local’ – a broad category that includes those from elsewhere in Pakistan, as well as foreigners.

When the Bureau released the first part of the report last summer, anonymous US officials attacked the document, claiming that the report was ‘far from authoritative’ as it was based on ‘erroneous media reporting’ and ‘indirect input from a loose network of Pakistani government and tribal contacts’. But the US has consistently refused to release information on what it believes has been the result of its drone strikes.

The overall casualties recorded by the document are broadly similar to those compiled by the Bureau, which uses sources including media reports, sworn affidavits and field investigations. The Bureau estimates that at least 2,371 people died in the time covered by the document (excluding 2007, which is missing from the record), while it records 2,217 deaths in total.

The document does not represent the Pakistani government’s full view of drone strikes. Alongside the Political Agents and their daily reports to the FATA Secretariat, the country’s intelligence agencies and military are each believed to collect details of attacks in separate reports. And during a recent trip to Pakistan the Bureau obtained a list of individuals killed in a single strike from a local politician.

The Pakistani government has made a series of statements on drone casualties: in March last year, officials at the Foreign Affairs ministry told UN expert Ben Emmerson, who was carrying out an investigation into drones, that at least 400 civilians – and possibly 600 – were among 2,200 drone casualties. In October, the Ministry of Defence issued a statement that contradicted this, asserting that drones had killed 67 civilians since 2008. It later retracted the statement, with unnamed senior defence officials telling The News International that the figures were ‘wrong and fabricated’.

The document obtained by the Bureau is unusual because it gives a strike-by-strike account, allowing for comparison between the government’s view of individual incidents and that of other sources.

Civilian casualties

Although the document records civilian casualties in the early years, from 2009 these almost disappear. Even well-documented cases of civilian deaths are omitted. These include at least two incidents where the tribal administration is known to have admitted to the families that it knew civilians had died.

Among the civilian deaths that go unmentioned is one of the most high-profile attacks of the past 18 months – an October 2012 attack that killed Mamana Bibi, an elderly woman, as she was in a field. Her grandchildren were nearby, and several were injured by debris.

‘If a case as well-documented as Mamana Bibi’s isn’t recorded as a civilian death, that raises questions about whether any state records of these strikes can be seen as reliable, beyond the most basic information,’ said Mustafa Qadri, a researcher for Amnesty International, who investigated the strike for a major report published last autumn. ‘It also raises questions of complicity on the part of the Pakistan state – has there been a decision to stop recording civilians deaths?’

Up to the end of 2008, the document reports where attacks have killed civilians. In this period the document lists 37 drone strikes, as well as four attacks carried out by NATO and Afghan forces – and it notes civilian deaths in 15 of the drone attacks. The document records 353 deaths in this time, of whom at least 138 are specifically described as civilians.

The document records a further 294 incidents between January 1 2009 and September 2013, when the version obtained by the Bureau ends. Only seven of these specifically mention civilian victims. Just two use the word ‘civilian’ – the others typically refer to women and children as being among the dead. A further entry states that a child was injured.

The Bureau’s data records a similar number of incidents over the same time period, but shows 53 incidents where at least one civilian death is reported by multiple credible sources – and many more where civilian deaths are possible. In total, the document records around 200 civilian deaths, including those where ambiguous language such as ‘local tribesmen’ is used – compared to a minimum of over 400 recorded by the Bureau.
Civilian casualties according to the document. In 2011, the file notes that 41 ‘local tribesmen’ were killed – these are included in the civilian count here.

A former senior FATA Secretariat official, speaking on condition of anonymity, explained that rather than attempting to establish which of the dead were believed to be civilians, agents instead categorised the dead as ‘local’ or ‘non-local’.

‘It is very difficult to report it whether this man was really a militant or a non-militant. So they found an easy way of saying it: local and non-local,’ he said.

 ‘It’s certainly of concern that almost all mention of non-combatant casualties simply disappears from this document after 2009, despite significant evidence to the contrary.’
- Chris Woods

A second local source agreed: ‘As a matter of policy, deaths in drone strikes were classified as locals and non-locals, because [the term] civilians was found to be too vague and contradictory.’ This helped to ‘avoid controversy’, he added.

The ‘non-local’ category strongly suggests that an individual is an alleged militant, the former official added. ‘Local means that they belong to that agency [tribal administered district] and you could say in general terms that they are innocent… But it is quite possible that some of them might be terrorists.’

The change in recording follows an escalation in the number of strikes in the final months of Bush’s presidency, which gathered pace under Obama. With the increased frequency of the strikes, gathering information may have become more challenging for Political Agents. Some non-combatant deaths may be missing, too, because reports are filed soon after they occur and are not later updated: several entries contain no casualty estimates at all and simply note: ‘Details are awaited.’

The former FATA official suggested that the document may have stopped regularly recording civilian casualties because of something as prosaic as a change of the personnel charged with compiling it. But other observers suggested that the cause could be less mundane.

The last drone strike in the document to use the word ‘civilian’ in describing the dead is the first of Obama’s presidency, on January 23 2009 (a strike six months later says, more ambiguously, ‘A civilian pickup was targeted’).

Amnesty’s Qadri said: ‘You cannot rule out a deliberate attempt not to include information on possible civilians or non-combatants being killed. It seems a huge coincidence that there’s this change in reporting just as Obama enters power. But whatever the explanation and despite the lingering uncertainty, we know these figures are not presenting the full picture of the US drone program.’

Chris Woods, who started the Bureau’s investigation into drone strikes and who is now writing a book on armed drones, said: ‘One of my sources, a former Pakistani minister, has indicated that local officials may have come under pressure to play down drone civilian deaths following the election of Barack Obama. It’s certainly of concern that almost all mention of non-combatant casualties simply disappears from this document after 2009, despite significant evidence to the contrary.’

‘It is feared that all the killed were local tribesmen’

A handful of entries include ambiguous language hinting at non-combatant casualties. On August 14 2010, the document records an evening strike, noting: ‘The dead included 07 Mehsuds, 05 locals and 01 unknown’. Mehsud is the name of a prominent local tribe. A field investigation by Associated Press later found that seven civilians – including a child – were among 14 to die in an attack on a house during Ramadan prayers.

And when a drone attacked a meeting of tribal elders on March 17 2011 – an attack that was condemned by the Pakistani military and civilian government – the report says ‘it is feared that all the killed were local tribesmen’.

Bureau field investigations have repeatedly encountered civilian deaths in strikes where local media have used ambiguous phrases such as ‘villagers’, ‘people’ and ‘local tribesmen’.

One entry in the file hints at problematic definitions of who is considered a ‘militant’. For a strike on April 12 2010, it records 14 deaths and three injuries, noting: ‘The killed militants also include a 12 years [sic] old child.’

‘Whatever is happening, if this document is anything to go by, it’s clear the Pakistan government’s investigations are not adequate,’ said Amnesty’s Qadri. ‘First, this table does not appear to be telling us the whole truth about casualties.

‘Secondly, what steps have Pakistan authorities taken to assist civilians caught up in these strikes like access to medical services or provide them with remedies such as access to justice or compensation? … It doesn’t seem to be the case that this record keeping is carried out so that the Pakistan state can better assist people caught up in these strikes.’

The document also barely mentions other details such as which organisation the dead are believed to have belonged to, or the names of those killed. Even when very senior militants are killed, they are almost never identified by name.

As the Bureau has found with its Naming the Dead investigation, the vast majority of those killed in drone strikes remain unidentified – only around one in five has so far been identified by name. Documents obtained by news agency McClatchy and NBC showing the CIA’s records of its drone strikes indicated that in most strikes these do not record the names of the dead either. These documents have not been published. And as the Pakistan document shows, even to the local government it is often a mystery who is dying in the CIA’s drone strikes.

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The United States’ Bloody Messes in Yemen

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A Yemeni boy walks past a mural depicting a U.S. drone on December 13 in the capital Sanaa. (Photo: AFP/Getty)December 12 was supposed to be a day of celebration for the al-Ameri family. A young bride traveled to her wedding with her relatives in Bayda province, Yemen. But in a few dark seconds their celebrations were eviscerated. A U.S. drone fired at the wedding procession, destroying five vehicles and most of their occupants. Not even the bride’s car, ornately decorated in flowers for the occasion, was spared from the carnage. Senior Yemeni officials later admitted that the strike was a “mistake”.

Some mistake: Though the bride survived, the strike is said to have killed at least 14 civilians and injured 22 others, over a third of them seriously. This marks the largest death toll by a drone strike in Yemen since the drone war’s inception. It is also the largest death toll by U.S. strike since December 2009, when a U.S. cruise missile killed 41 civilians in al-Majala, including 14 women and 21 children.

“Rather than forthrightly address its role in these grim events, the U.S. government has issued no admission of responsibility, nor any apology.”

In the wake of the killing, a wave of outrage has swept the country. The Yemeni government rushed to meet community elders, seeking to negotiate a quiet settlement for the killing of the bride’s loved ones. But the bereaved villagers rejected the overtures and instead demanded that Yemen’s president, Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi, stop U.S. drones before they would sit at any negotiating table.

On its side, rather than forthrightly address its role in these grim events, the U.S. government has issued no admission of responsibility, nor any apology. It has left the Yemeni government to clean up another bloody mess.

Only recently,we had cause to hope for better. In November, Yemeni civil engineer Faisal bin Ali Jaber traveled over 7,000 miles to the U.S. in search of answers. He met congressmen, senators, and even some White House officials to tell them how U.S. missiles incinerated his nephew and brother-in-law at his son’s wedding last year. In that strike,the U.S. killed two potential allies – one an imam who regularly preached against al-Qaeda; the other one of the town’s few policemen. Jaber received heartfelt condolences from many lawmakers. Yet no official was prepared to explain why his relatives were killed, or why the U.S. administration would not acknowledge its mistake.

This is not the first time a U.S. drone has killed civilians in Bayda. On Sept. 2, 2012, a U.S. plane hit a village shuttle near Radda. The vehicle was full of villagers carrying their day’s shopping. As usual, the initial press coverage labelled the dead as “al-Qaeda militants,” butwhen the relatives threatened to deliver the bodies to the president’s gates, the Yemeni government was forced to concede that all 12 of those people killed were civilians. Among the victims, a pregnant woman and three children were laid to rest.

The use of drones in Yemen might appear a simple, quick-fix option for President Obama. But as Nabeel Khoury, former U.S. deputy chief of mission to Yemen, recently wrote, “Drone strikes take out a few bad guys to be sure, but they also kill a large number of innocent civilians. Given Yemen’s tribal structure, the U.S. generates roughly forty to sixty new enemies for every AQAP [al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula] operative killed by drones.”

Let me be clear: I, like the vast majority of my countrymen, reject terrorism. All of us were repulsed by recent footage of a gruesome attack on a Yemeni defense ministry hospital. We agree that our fight against extremist groups cannot be won without a variety of efforts, including robust law enforcement. But more often than not, U.S. drone strikes leave families bereaved and villages terrified. Drones tear at the fabric of Yemeni society. Wronged and angry men are just the sort extreme groups like AQAP find easiest to recruit.

Our president may reassure the United States of his support for drone strikes but the reality is that no leader can legitimately approve the extrajudicial killing of his own citizens. Moreover, he does so in the face of Yemeni consensus. This August, Yemen’s National Dialogue Conference — which President Obama has praised — decided by a 90 percent majority that the use of drones in Yemen should be criminalised.

Yemeni legislators are aware that the drone war is deeply unpopular. Since the Dec,. 12 strike, our parliament has unanimously voted to ban drone flights in Yemeni airspace, declaring them a “grave breach” of the country’s sovereignty. For a country so often divided, this unanimity from Yemen’s most representative bodies testifies to the strength of opinion against drones. But their calls have thus far met only with more bombings from the skies. How can the people of Yemen build trust in their fledgling democracy when our collective will is ignored by democracy’s greatest exponent?

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Human Rights Activist in Yemen Receives Death Threat for Investigating Drone Attack

NOVANEWS

Baraa Shiban, an investigator in Yemen for human rights charity Reprieve, received an anonymous death threat yesterday (Thursday) relating to his investigation of a US drone strike which killed 12 wedding guests and injured 14 others in al-Baydah province, on December 12, 2013.

The anonymous caller demanded that Mr. Shiban abandon his investigation of the drone strike and then threatened his life.

The investigation to which the caller referred exposed that the drone strike had hit a wedding procession, rather than Al-Qaeda militants as the US and Yemeni governments had initially claimed. The findings of Reprieve’s investigation, which were broadcast on the US network NBC on Tuesday, have sparked the US administration to launch an internal investigation.

Reprieve has written to governmental officials calling on them to investigate the threat and take any steps required by Yemeni law. Reprieve Legal Director Kat Craig said: “Our primary concern is, of course, for the safety of our colleague. We have asked President Hadi to take a stand to protect Baraa and other human rights advocates who are so vital to Yemen’s democratic transition. But the nature of the threat, and the proximity of it to the high profile coverage of this recent strike procured by Baraa, only makes us more determined to continue our work to expose the unlawfulness of drones in Yemen, how they are killing civilians and terrorising entire communities. We hope that the Yemeni and international community will continue to assist our colleague in his brave work.”

 

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UN Officials: We Demand Answers for US Wedding Massacres in Yemen

NOVANEWS

Special Rapporteur Juan Méndez: ‘A deadly attack on illegitimate targets amounts to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment’

- Sarah Lazare, staff writer

Children gather near car destroyed in 2012 by a U.S. drone air strike in Azan, in the southeastern Yemeni province of Shabwa. (Photo: Reuters / Khaled Abdullah / Files)A suspected U.S. drone strike that killed 16 civilians attending a wedding in Yemen violates humanitarian law and must be accounted for, declared UN experts on Thursday.

“A deadly attack on illegitimate targets amounts to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment if, as in this case, it results in serious physical or mental pain and suffering for the innocent victims,” said Special Rapporteur on Torture Juan Méndez, according to a UN statement.

“If armed drones are to be used, States must adhere to international humanitarian law, and should disclose the legal basis for their operational responsibility and criteria for targeting,” said Christof Heyns, UN Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions. “Yemen cannot consent to violations of the right to life of people in its territory.”

Local security officials report that 16 civilians were killed and over 10 injured when drone missiles struck two wedding processions on December 12.

Despite this mass civilian death, confirmed in numerous media reports, the U.S. government has so far refused to disclose information on the legality, targets, and victims of these strikes.

The Obama administration has been famously secretive about the covert drone wars of the United States while claiming that their civilian death count is low, despite reports from Bureau of Investigative Journalism researchers who have documented high numbers of civilian deaths in Pakistan and Yemen

As Tom Engelhardt recently pointed out, while much media reported that the wedding was an “unlikely target” that was struck mistakenly, there is in fact nothing unlikely or unique about this wedding tragedy.

According to “the count of TomDispatch, this is at least the eighth wedding party reported wiped out, totally or in part, since the Afghan War began and it extends the extermination of wedding celebrants from the air to a third country — six destroyed in Afghanistan, one in Iraq, and now the first in Yemen,” writes Engelhardt. “And in all those years, reporters covering these “incidents” never seem to notice that similar events had occurred previously.”

He adds, “The only thing that made the Yemeni incident unique was the drone. The previous strikes were reportedly by piloted aircraft.”

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Murder in Yemen

NOVANEWS

(Photo: ninjawil/ cc via flickr)Here’s the bottom line on the American drone strike that slaughtered as many as seventeen people in a wedding party in Yemen last week: the CIA, which carried out the attack, had no comment. The State Department didn’t say anything. And the White House, ignoring outcries in Yemen, says merely, “We obviously cooperate closely with the government of Yemen on counterterrorism, have in the past and will continue in the future to do that.”

Way back in May 2013, President Obama delivered a major speech on counterterrorism policy and drones, in which he said that the use of drones “raises profound questions — about who is targeted, and why; about civilian casualties, and the risk of creating new enemies; about the legality of such strikes under U.S. and international law; about accountability and morality.”

But in that same speech, Obama essentially said “too bad” when it comes to civilian casualties caused by drone strikes. “I must weigh these heartbreaking tragedies against the alternatives.” So I wonder, now, if Obama is weighing the heartbreaking tragedy that he ordered last week against the “alternative,” namely, putting an end to these assassinations by remote control.

What does it say about America’s $80 billion-plus intelligence system, including the all-powerful National Security Agency, if it can’t distinguish between a terrorist and a wedding party? Who, indeed, was the supposed target of this drone strike, and what exactly was he planning to do, that made it so important to try to assassinate him? Was he some kingpin plotting another 9/11, or just some mid-level bad guy like the dozens upon dozens of others that the United States has blown to pieces after the killing of Osama bin Laden made Al Qaeda a nearly destroyed entity? If US intelligence is so poor, it’s way past time to stop these attacks.

In his May speech, Obama said,

Yes, the conflict with al Qaeda, like all armed conflict, invites tragedy.  But by narrowly targeting our action against those who want to kill us and not the people they hide among, we are choosing the course of action least likely to result in the loss of innocent life.

And he said that each and every strike would involve extensive review, and that information would be provided to Congress. “Let me repeat that:  Not only did Congress authorize the use of force, it is briefed on every strike that America takes.  Every strike.” And this one?

Some of the people involved may have been members of tribes in Yemen linked to Al Qaeda,according to The New York Times.  (According to the Los Angeles Timeswhich reported that seventeen died, “Five of those killed were suspected of involvement with Al Qaeda, but the remainder were unconnected with the militancy, Yemeni security officials said.”) But in Yemen’s chaotic, tumultuous tribal politics, there are countless violent actors and many who’ve identified with Al Qaeda simply because it’s the biggest, baddest gang in the area. (It’s not unlike the way many youth, in inner cities, become gang members for reasons of status, self-protection or self-respect.) But I don’t believe for one second that American intelligence is anywhere good enough to determine whether or not some people thousands of feet below a hovering drone are really worth targeting them for assassination—even leaving aside the constitutional, legal, moral and international-law aspects of the whole drone program.

As The Atlantic noted,

More than a dozen dead, many more injured, and an unknown number of survivors whose lives have suddenly taken a nightmarish turn the likes of which we cannot imagine, and all for the sake of five people suspected of ties to al-Qaeda. How many actual al-Qaeda terrorists would we have to kill with drones in Yemen to make the benefits of our drone war there outweigh the costs of this single catastrophic strike? If U.S. drone strikes put American wedding parties similarly at risk would we tolerate our targeted-killing program for a single day more? Our policy persists because we put little value on the lives of foreign innocents. Even putting them through the most horrific scene imaginable on their wedding day is but a blip on our media radar, easily eclipsed by a new Beyonce album.

There’s new turmoil in Yemen, which has a fragile, barely functioning government. Yemen’s government defends the drone strikes and cooperation with the United States, but Yemen’s parliament is in an uproar, and voted to ban future drone attacks. But The Wall Street Journalreminds us that, for Yemen’s president and his circle, it’s all about the Benjamins:

Yemen’s parliament has stepped up pressure on the government to immediately end American drone strikes amid furor over an attack that officials said mistakenly killed 15 people in a wedding convoy.

However, President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi, who has the final say, isn’t likely to tell the U.S. to shut down the drone program because his impoverished government needs the American funding attached to it. … Last year, the U.S. provided nearly $350 million to Yemen’s government, split between military and civilian aid, U.S. officials said. That was up from $28 million in 2008, before the U.S. drone program resumed after a six-year hiatus.

So the going price for a poor country to allow the United States to blow its citizens to smithereens is, apparently, $350 million.

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