Archive | Yemen

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


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


(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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US Drone Strike Targets Yemeni Wedding

The Real “Red Wedding”

“Before any strike is taken, there must be near-certainty that no civilians will be killed or injured — the highest standard we can set.”

President Barack Obama

“Before any strike is taken,” President Obama assured us in his speech this May on U.S. Drone and Counter-terrorism policy, “there must be near-certainty that no civilians will be killed or injured.” Nice words, but as Jon Snow remarks in George R. R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire, “Men are men, vows are words, and words are wind.” Sorry, I can’t help it if a GOT quote most aptly fit there.

I wonder how “near-certainty” the President was on Friday, December 13th, when a U.S. drone strike targeted a wedding convoy in Yemen’s al-Baitha province, killing 14 and injuring 22. Imagine gathering for a quaint wedding in Northern Virginia on a picturesque farm, all of your loved ones gathered in celebration, only to have your wedding party slaughtered by a drone from Pakistan. We react with hysteria when a lone gunman starts shooting in a public place. Imagine our vitriolic response to repeated attacks on weddings by foreign enemies.

This isn’t the first wedding that we’ve bombed, nor is it likely the last. In June of last year, a similar incident went largely unreported in the mainstream, this time, in a village in Logar Province, Afghanistan. A family was gathered in a home for a wedding celebration when U.S. and Afghan troops alleged that a group of Taliban insurgents entered the home. As forces surrounded the home, either a grenade was thrown or firing broke out, at which point a jet was called in to drop a 500-pound bomb, killing everyone inside, including nine children. Congrats on your wedding from the U.S. of A! Till death do you part!

Despite the President’s lovely words about going the extra mile to avoid civilian casualties, these are no aberrations in U.S. counter-terrorism policy. In 2001, B-52 and B-1B bombers took out an entire wedding party in a small Afghan village, killing over 100. Rory Carroll wrote inThe Guardian:

The attack on Qalaye Niazi was as sudden and devastating as the Pentagon intended. American special forces on the ground confirmed the target and three bombers, a B-52 and two B-1Bs, did the rest, zapping Taliban and al-Qaida leaders in their sleep as well as an ammunition dump.

The war on terrorism came no cleaner and Commander Matthew Klee, a spokesman at the US central command in Tampa, Florida, had reassuring news: “Follow-on reporting indicates that there was no collateral damage.”

Some of the things his follow-on reporters missed: bloodied children’s shoes and skirts, bloodied school books, the scalp of a woman with braided grey hair, butter toffees in red wrappers, wedding decorations.

In 2002, a U.S. plane targeted a house of wedding guests in the central region of Oruzgan, killing at least 30 people and injuring at least 40 – many of whom were women and children. In Western Iraq in 2004, another wedding party was attacked while the guests slept. More than 40 were killed, women and children included. In 2008, a wedding party was bombed as 70-90 women accompanied the bride-to-be to meet her soon-to-be husband, the customary tradition. Her vows were never said. 27 people, mostly women and children, were among the dead, including the bride. Tom Engelhardt’s aptly titled piece in TomDispatch, “The Wedding Crashers,” goes into even more detail.

Funeral Crashing as well, is not even out of bounds for our noble purveyors of global violence. In 2007, as villagers in Watapour, Afghanistan were burying 10 people killed in a previous strike, Nato-led forces attacked again, killing 25. In 2012, the Bureau of Investigative Journalism documented that the U.S. targets those who rescue and retrieve bodies from drone attacks, as well as those who gather at funerals to mourn those who have died from drone attacks. As the New York Times summarized, “The report, by the London-based Bureau of Investigative Journalism, found that at least 50 civilians had been killed in follow-up strikes after they rushed to help those hit by a drone-fired missile. The bureau counted more than 20 other civilians killed in strikes on funerals.”

On Sunday following this most recent attack in the al-Baitha province, Yemen’s parliament voted unanimously in a call for the U.S. to end drone strikes in the country. A top Yemeni national security official who spoke anonymously said, “The Yemeni public is angered by the drone strikes…The people’s representatives reflected on the tone of the streets.” I imagine that the tone of the streets is stronger than this official lets on. As we murder more and more innocents abroad, we stoke the fires of anti-American sentiment and create more enemies for ourselves in exponential numbers. This is called blowback, the creation of new terrorists in our hunt of terrorists abroad. We kill members of your family and terrorize your village, you take up arms against the imperial aggressors who send drone after drone into your homes, schools, and public spaces. Former U.S.official, Nabeel Khoury, the deputy chief of mission in Yemen for the State Department from 2004 to 2007, wrote in the Cairo Review this October that the use of drones oversees is breeding new militants with each attack. He 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 operative killed by drones. Open source reporting records 45 drone strikes in Yemen in 2012, and 22 so far in 2013.  Reported casualties are 491 for 2012.”

In Obama’s drone and counter-terrorism speech in May, he discussed the understanding Americans have for the “price that must be paid for freedom,” and that while Americans are “deeply ambivalent about war,” our commitment to the principles defined in the Constitution have withstood every war and every war has eventually come to an end.

“For over two centuries, the United States has been bound together by founding documents that defined who we are as Americans, and served as our compass through every type of change.  Matters of war and peace are no different.  Americans are deeply ambivalent about war, but having fought for our independence, we know a price must be paid for freedom.  From the Civil War to our struggle against fascism, on through the long twilight struggle of the Cold War, battlefields have changed and technology has evolved.  But our commitment to constitutional principles has weathered every war, and every war has come to an end.”

But every war has not come to an end. One war – the war for greed and power – has continued. This is the war of the powerful against the weak, of the rich against the poor, of the haves against the have-nots. The U.S. is fighting enemies all around the globe - in Yemen, in Afghanistan, in Iraq, in Somalia, in Pakistan, in Djibouti, the Philippines, central Africa, Guatemala, Mexico, and too many others – frantically sucking up resources and actively working to prevent democracy and basic human rights in countries where our government supports brutal and oppressive regimes.

The U.S. has continued to kill innocent civilians abroad without regard to their own right to a peaceful, happy life. And make no mistake, there will be blowback. Chris Hedges summed this idea up impeccably: “The violent subjugation of the Palestinians, Iraqis, and Afghans will only ensure that those who oppose us will increasingly speak to us in the language we speak to them—violence.” Violence breeds more violence, and for every terrorist we may take out abroad, we are creating many and more, permitting the cycle to continue indefinitely.

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Voicing the People’s Anger, Yemen Parliament Calls for Drone Ban


Latest attack on wedding party, that left many civilians dead, shows destabilizing impact of US campaign

- Jon Queally

A Yemeni boy walks past a mural depicting a U.S. drone on December 13 in the capital Sanaa. (Photo: AFP/Getty)In its most assertive rebuke yet to its own president and the U.S. government, the Yemen Parliament on Sunday demanded an end to U.S. drone bombings in the country just days after a missile strike on a wedding party killed at least fifteen people and left many more wounded.

“If the government fails to stop American planes from… bombing the people of Yemen, then it has no rule over us.” —tribal chief Ahmad al-Salmani

“Members of parliament voted to stop what drones are doing in Yemeni airspace, stressing the importance of preserving innocent civilian lives against any attack and maintaining Yemeni sovereignty,” the state news agency SABA reported.

Though the nearly unanimous vote is considered “non-binding” under Yemeni law, a government official told CNN that the legislative move should be seen as “a strong warning” to Yemeni President Abdo Rabbo Mansour Hadi.

“The Yemeni public is angered by the drone strikes,” said the official, who spoke to CNN on condition of anonymity because he’s not authorized to talk to reporters. “The people’s representatives reflected on the tone of the streets.”

Anti-drone activists in Yemen and abroad have been joined by foreign policy experts who all agree that the U.S. drone campaign in the country is having a counter-productive and destabilizing effect.

The U.S. government has so far refused to comment on the attack or take responsibility for the civilians killed, though a statement by the Hadi’s Supreme Security Committee said the bombing targeted al-Qaeda leadership.

As Agence France-Presse reports:

In the car “were top leaders who plotted several terrorist attacks against the armed forces, police, civilians and vital government installations,” it said.

The statement did not give a death toll for the strike, nor refer to any civilian casualties or acknowledge that the attack was launched by a US drone.

Security sources and witnesses said two missiles were fired, and that mostly civilians had died.

Amnesty International said confusion over who was behind the raid “exposes a serious lack of accountability for scores of civilian deaths in the country.”

“Even if it turns out that this was a case of killing based on mistaken identity or dodgy intelligence, whoever was responsible needs to own up to the error and come clean about what happened in this incident,” said Philip Luther, Amnesty’s Middle East and North Africa director.

Relatives of the dead staged protests to denounce the killings and demanded an official apology as well as compensation.

Hundreds of people also blocked the road between Rada and Sanaa at Friday’s funeral of 13 people but reopened a day later after reaching agreement on compensation with local military authorities.

“If the government fails to stop American planes from… bombing the people of Yemen, then it has no rule over us,” tribal chief Ahmad al-Salmani told AFP on Saturday.

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The US killed my brother with a drone. I want to know why

Americans must demand an end to drone strikes on innocent civilians
Mohammed Al Qaeli Yemen drone strike
The author’s brother, Ali Al Qawli

I am writing today as a grieving brother, haunted by questions about Ali al Qawli’s death and the complicity of the United States and the Yemeni governments in bringing it about.

My brother Ali died on Jan. 23, 2013. He was an elementary school teacher at the Khaled Ben Waleed School in the Juhana province of Sanaa, Yemen — an area with a limited number of schools and teachers. The day after my brother died, the teachers’ log had a glaring blank space next to his name. The students waited patiently. Ten minutes passed, then 30 minutes and finally an hour. The principal walked into the classroom and said, “Mr. Ali will not be coming in today.”

Ali had stood in front of his classroom every day, rain or shine and amid heavy clashes that erupted near Yemen’s capital because of demonstrations calling for political and social change beginning in 2011. His students relied on him. Since he started teaching in 2000, my 34-year-old brother hadn’t missed a single day of work. But after 13 years of uninterrupted teaching service, a U.S. drone strike took his life.

It was 8 p.m. when I heard the news. I was sitting with friends drinking tea and chatting when I received a phone call from a relative in the village of Sanhan who said a Toyota Hilux SUV similar to the one my cousin Salim drove had been hit by a U.S. drone. The sounds of drones had been filling our skies for a week. Now they had taken the lives of Ali and Salim, who was 20 years old and working part time as a driver to support his family while he went to college. Ali was in the car with Salim when he gave two alleged members of Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, or AQAP, a ride. Ali and Salim had nothing to do with these groups — but by the logic of counterterrorism, they all had to go.

At the scene, I stood motionless, frozen by shock. Slowly, as if in a nightmare, I picked up parts of my brother, his body charred and scattered across the ground. Ali’s love of life couldn’t save him. My love for him couldn’t save him. He was burned, broken, dead. I burst into tears at the sight, and then I fainted. It all felt like a bad dream. It still does.

Ali was an optimist. His sense of humor was a powerful antidote to the ongoing clashes, power outages and poverty in Yemen. Ali loved reading and reciting verse by the Syrian poet Nizar Qabbani. With his beautiful personality, he taught and enriched the lives of hundreds of children and young people in his village. Everyone was devastated by his death. Imagine the pain and sorrow I felt and still feel when my brother was ripped from my life. It is the same pain that is felt by our mother, our father, Ali’s wife, their three children and all those who knew and loved him.

An educator opposed to terror

Ali believed in reform. He was one of the first in our village to join the Yemeni revolution in 2011. Participants organized protests that called for equality, an end to political corruption and the resignation of President Ali Saleh. Ali pitched a tent in Sanaa’s Change Square and encouraged family members, colleagues and friends to join the movement. I remember our father begging him to return to the village, fearful that he would get hurt, but Ali insisted on carrying on. He believed in the revolution and refused to leave. When asked why he spent day after day protesting against the government, he often said, “the Yemeni people want to enjoy freedom and democracy.” So when Saleh stepped down in early 2012 and President Abdu Rabbu Mansour Hadi took over, Ali was excited. He supported Hadi because he believed that it was the best way to get Yemen out of its suffering.

Ali did not know that the same president he voted for a year before would end up charring his body and tearing it into pieces in Sanhan, 20 kilometers southeast of the capital. He did not know that the same president who called for change and justice would also graciously welcome U.S. drones,praising the targeted killings as the U.S. dropped bombs on innocent people in his country. He did not know that this president would hold his body hostage in the hospital, refusing to hand over his remains to his family until members from our village ended their protests, stopped their blockades and silenced their demands for an investigation of the drone strike.

The U.S. and Yemeni governments killed a young man who strongly opposed terrorism and tried to bring change through education — the very same things they purport to want themselves. I want to know why.

Our father, our mother, my brother’s widow and their three young children are living a daily nightmare. My brother was a schoolteacher when he was “accidentally” killed, and the only thing the Yemeni ministry ever acknowledged was that “Salim and Ali Al Qawli did not have any knowledge of or contact with the individuals who asked for a ride, but they happened to die alongside (them.)”

I have been waiting for almost a year now for an apology and for meaningful answers as to why my brother had to die, but no one in the U.S. or Yemeni government has ever contacted me or claimed responsibility for their actions.

I’d heard that the United States of America was sending support to Yemen, but for a long time I did not know what that meant. Now I can see it firsthand. I have received U.S. gifts and U.S. aid, wrapped in a body bag. These explosive fragments kill Yemenis, destroy their spirits, burn their bodies and only further empower the militants. The U.S. and Yemeni governments killed a young man who strongly opposed terrorism and tried to bring change through education — the very same things they purport to want themselves. I want to know why.

Ali al Qawli the schoolteacher has left us, but his tremendous legacy of love, passion and hope remains. I hope that the American people will demand an end to the illegal extrajudicial executions happening in their name. I hope they will stand against the violent actions of their Nobel Peace Prize–winning president and join us in demanding that the U.S. government stop its blind killing of hundreds of innocent people. Most important, I hope they will represent the best ideals of their country’s founding and help end this injustice committed in their name.

I may live thousands of miles from the United States, but I hope that when Americans hear about drones, they will share my brother’s story and the stories of countless other civilians who have died in the name of counterterrorism. We must ensure that both courts and governments stop the killing and do not make a farce of the principles they purport to uphold.

Mohammed Al Qawli is an educational consultant at the Ministry of Education in Sanaa, Yemen and the former director of the Ministry of Education in Khawlan province. His brother, Ali Al Qawli, was killed in a drone strike in January 2013.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera America’s editorial policy.

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Impossible Dialogue


Chances are dim that elections will be held in Yemen next February. Yet without elections, the push for reforms and change that were inspired by the Yemeni revolution would become devoid of any real value. Yemenis might find themselves back on the street, repeating the original demands that echoed in the country’s many impoverished cities, streets and at every corner.

It is not easy to navigate the convoluted circumstances that govern Yemeni politics, which seem to be in a perpetual state of crisis. When millions of Yemenis started taking to the streets on January 27, 2011, a sense of hope prevailed that Yemen would be transferred from a country ruled by elites, and mostly beholden to outside regional and international powers, to a country of a different type: one that responds to the collective aspirations of its own people.

Instead, after a long stalemate that pinned most of the country and its political representatives against former President Ali Abdullah Saleh and his supporters, Gulf countries brokered a power transfer deal. The deal however sidelined Saleh, but not his family and their proponents.

It is of little help that interim President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi, who was elected to guide the transition for a two-year period in 2012, is no revolutionary. True, he seemed sincere in his attempt to curb Saleh’s still prevailing influence over many of the country’s institutions, but that is hardly enough. Saleh’s supporters are still powerful and the former ruling class is fighting back for relevance and influence. This results from a combination of deepening poverty and a failure to translate any of the revolution’s demands into any tangible solution that could be felt by the country’s poor and marginalized classes.

The target of Saleh’s supporters is the Conference of National Reconciliation (CNR). It convened on March 18 to explore common ground between all strands of Yemeni society, draw-up a new constitution and organize national elections. The 565 members of the conference found out that their differences were too many to overcome. Exploiting Yemen’s political woes, tribal and sectarian divisions, the old regime used its own representatives at CNR, and sway over the media to derail the process.

In remarks before the Security Council, Jamal Benomar, the United Nations envoy to Yemen, sounded the alarm to the staged comeback. A statement of his remarks was made available to the media on Nov 28. It said that there was a “well-funded, relentless and malicious media campaign” to undermine Hadi, so that he either prolongs his mandate or leaves offices. “Some elements of the former regime believe they can turn back the clock,” the envoy said. These elements have become a “persistent source of instability.”

The dialogue itself has been extended, with little evidence that anything concrete is on the way. What is even worse is that 85 delegates representing south Yemen, which until 1990 was a state of its own, decided to permanently leave the conference. The separatist movement in south Yemen has grown massively in recent months. The country is more vulnerable than ever before.

If Hadi leaves, a political vacuum could spark another power struggle. If he stays by extending his term in office, the dialogue is likely to falter even more. There can be no win-win situation, at least for now.

Considering that Benomar himself played a key role in shaping the current transitional period, his gloomy reading of the situation in Yemen is hardly encouraging.

As talks are derailed and the prospects of a compromise are at an all-time low, the Southern separatist movement Al-Hirak continues to gather steam. The movement grew increasingly more relevant following the Oct 12 rallies, when tens of thousands of Yemenis took to the streets of Eden, mostly demanding secession from the north.

What is happening in Yemen these days is in complete contrast to the collective spirit that occupied the streets of the country nearly three years ago. In Jan 2011, a large protest took place in the Yemeni capital Sana’a demanding immediate reforms in the country’s corrupt family and clan-based politics. Within a week the rest of the country joined the initial cry for reforms. On Feb 3, both Sana’a and Eden stood united under one banner. It was a momentous day because both cities once served as capitals of two warring countries. The youth of Yemen were able to fleetingly bridge a gap that neither politicians nor army generals managed to close despite several agreements and years of bloody conflicts. However, that collective triumph of the Yemeni people was only felt on the streets of the country, overwhelmed by poverty and destitution, but also compelled by hope. That sentiment was never truly translated into a clear political victory, even after Saleh was deposed in Feb 2012.

The Gulf-brokered agreement under the auspices of the UN and other international players stripped the revolution of its euphoria. It merely diverted from the massive popular movement that gripped the streets for many months, allowing politicians, representatives of tribes and other powerful elites to use the NDC to simply achieve its own interests, be it to maintain a handle on power – as is the case of the ruling General People’s Congress (GPC), or to ignite old hopes of secession. The party that was closest to the collective demands of ordinary Yemenis was the Joint Meeting Parties (JMP), representing the opposition. However, conflict soon ensued between members of the JMP themselves, especially between the Islamic-leaning Yemeni Congregation for Reform (Islah) whose core supporters are based in the North, and the secularist Yemeni Socialist Party (YSP), based in the South.

Considering the mistrust in the very process that is meant to lead the country towards permanent reforms and democracy, and in the very representatives guiding the transition, it is no wonder that Yemen is once more at the brink of tumult. The country’s unity, achieved in May 1990, after bitter struggle and war between a Marxist-Leninist South Yemen, and North Yemen, is now at risk. Equally as dangerous is that the south, although represented by the all-encompassing Al-Hirak, hardly speaks in one voice.

Al-Hirak itself is divided and at times seems incapable of taking one solid political stance. Following a statement in which Al-Hirak announced that they “completely withdraw from the conference (holding) all the parties that placed obstacles in our path responsible for this decision,” another statement surfaced on Nov 28, also attributed to Al-Hirak “denying the walkout and affirming that the Southern movement remains committed to the national dialogue,” reported Asharq Al-Awsat.

Yemen’s divisions are copious and growing, allowing the old regime to find ways to once more dominate the country. It could easily rebrand itself as the party capable of uniting all Yemenis and saving Yemen from complete economic collapse and disintegration.

Still empowered by the spirit of their revolution that underscored the resilience and discipline of one of the world’s poorest nations, Yemenis might find themselves back on the streets demanding freedom, democracy, transparency and more, demands of which nothing has been accomplished, nearly three years on.

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Pakistani Drone Strike Opponents Block NATO Shipments to Afghanistan


Pakistani government continues to privately back the US-led drone campaign in spite of growing public opposition to drone strikes -   


Sana Saleem is CEO of human rights organization Bolo Bhi, which means “Speak Up.” The organization focuses on policy, advocacy and research. She’s an activist and blogger at The Guardian, Global Voices and


Pakistani Drone Strike Opponents Block NATO Shipments to Afghanistan

JESSICA DESVARIEUX, TRNN PRODUCER: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Jessica Desvarieux in Baltimore.

In Pakistan, drone strike opponents have succeeded in blocking a major NATO supply route to Afghanistan for the third straight day. They are protesting the ongoing U.S.-led drone strikes, which have killed hundreds of civilians. Opponents held a massive demonstration over the weekend and announced that they will block NATO shipments until the U.S. drone war in Pakistan comes to an end.

Now joining us to discuss this and the growing opposition to drone strikes is Sana Saleem. She is the director of human rights organization Bolo Bhi, which means speak up in Urdu. And she’s a blogger atThe Guardian and Global Voices.

Thanks for joining us, Sana.


DESVARIEUX: So, Sana, let’s talk about the issue of drones in Pakistan and some of the internal politics here. For some time, the Pakistani government privately supported drone strikes. More recently, they have demanded the U.S. halt them. Yet the current anti-drone protests are being held by a federal opposition party. Where do the major political parties and Pakistani public fall on the issue of drones?

SALEEM: Sort of going back on, you know, drone warfare in Pakistan and how it began, drone warfare began during the time of General Pervez Musharraf, which was essentially during a government which came under dictatorship. And so, therefore, there was lots–in fact, the entire war in Afghanistan and the whole alliance with the U.S. on the war on terror came during General Musharraf’s time. And because it wasn’t a democratic government and the Parliament at that time was not considered truly democratic, he did not follow the usual due process of now, which is essentially that the Parliament is briefed by the prime minister, and the prime minister is first briefed by the military. And so whatever military understanding is–whenever military cooperation is being undertaken by the government, it is being considered at every level, and everybody’s been taken into account. When this happened, unfortunately, it was a military government in Pakistan, and therefore a lot of the, you know, let’s say, undercover agreements with the American government that our government had had were not unearthed until much later.

This happened in 2012, when the Pakistani government, the Foreign Ministry, for once, took a very strong stance on drone strikes and they adopted a policy whereby the foreign office in Pakistan would always issue a statement opposing a drone strike every single time a drone strike was reported. And you’ve seen that from, you know, the past year.

And before that, even before that, soon after the Musharraf-led government ended, we’d seen a strong opposition to drone warfare. And as a matter of fact, a lot of the opposition that was built in to impeach then-president Pervez Musharraf was around the fact that he had extensively cooperated with the U.S., and also the fact that he had cooperated with drone strikes taking place in Pakistan.

And so for the past year we’ve seen an increased number of statements coming in from the Foreign Ministry. For now, all major political parties on the record are–consider drone strikes a violation of Pakistan’s sovereignty. They also consider it a human rights issue. But none of them, even the one that is currently undertaking these protests, PTI, have taken any strong substantial steps to put an end to it. It’s always the fact that, you know, these strikes continue to happen even though the Foreign Ministry has been continuing to issue statements.

But we do know that these strikes do not happen without the cooperation of the Pakistani intelligence agencies or the Pakistani military. That is the understanding amongst the journalists. That is the understanding among the human rights groups. That’s the understanding within the government. But it’s never really openly said.

DESVARIEUX: Okay. And I want to get to the point about those who are saying that–I want to bring up the counterargument to what drone opponents are saying. You have some drone supporters basically making the case that drones are a more humanitarian alternative to sending in ground troops, that there will be fewer civilian casualties. What’s your response to that argument?

SALEEM: So we cannot make that argument entirely based on facts, because, I mean, on both sides, we do not–like, drone strikes–most number of drone strikes that have occurred have occurred in the Federally Administrated Tribal Areas of Pakistan, where there is little to no coverage at all. So we do not exactly have the number of deaths.

We do have independent studies now, an elaborate number of independent studies. But, again, drone supporters would say that, you know, none of these researchers actually had, you know, traveled to FATA or traveled to Waziristan. They’re reporting through sources that are on the ground. And so drone supporters will say that these resources are dubious in nature.

But, I mean, the idea is that if you are supposed to be on the side of–you know, sort of even in doubt about civilian casualties, you’d rather be–I mean, as a human rights person, I would rather be on the side of saying, you know, there is, because that is a reality of war, that civilian casualties do happen. So I would rather be on the side of the fact that, yes, civilian casualties may happen, and we need to accept the fact that either–even as drone supporters, either you’re okay with the number of casualties and say that, yes, so that drones can kill civilians, but it is much better than troops going in or the fact that troops cannot go in.

But the idea is that this has been happening for the past many, many years. The FATA, or the Federally Administrated Tribal Areas of Pakistan, are not under [parliamentary] control. They’re not–they do not–laws that are passed in the Parliament do not apply in these areas. There has been no move in bringing in reforms so that these laws may apply there. There has been no move in applying or passing a counterterrorism strategy.

So the argument, even with drone supporters, has always been the fact that they think that, you know, they go with the policy that beggars are not choosers, and the fact that the army cannot operate in those areas–drones are our best bet.

But on the contrary, opponents of drones–and I like to put myself in that category–would like to see concrete counterterrorism strategies put in place so that we can have that due process, rather than going for a process that we can call extrajudicial killings of both civilians and also terrorists.

DESVARIEUX: And just really briefly, Sana, do you think these protests, these ongoing protests, are actually going to have any sort of effect on U.S. policy in Pakistan, and even Pakistani policy agreeing to this U.S. policy?

SALEEM: Unfortunately, even though I strongly oppose drones, I do not believe that these protests will do anything more than just bravado or just to show off power, because, again, the Pakistani political parties have made little to no movement in actually getting a counterterrorism policy in place. They do not currently have, even after ten years of war, a counterterrorism strategy that can display what in the long term will the forces be doing, how will they be enacting in these areas.

If they are suggesting, like you said, like you mentioned earlier, drone supporters will always say the fact that, you know, there are militants out there, and because drones are supposedly targeting those militants, those are our best bet, well, if the Pakistani government does not want drones anymore or just thinks that these are killing civilians, we need to be able to create alternatives. And the alternatives can only be created if there is a strategy or a clear path.

And not only is that clear path done by taking the military and the Parliament as a whole in confidence, plus also the people, and then taking the U.S., which is undoubtedly our ally on this war, into confidence–otherwise, there cannot be any concrete, you know, solution to any of these protests. I just think that this is–I mean, unfortunately, this looks like grade three power, this looks like a great, you know, bravado show of power and all that. But I don’t think this can have any substantial changes.

And also, more importantly, due process should not be influenced solely by street power. This should be done through proper channels. This should be sustainable and substantial. And this can only be done if clear policies are implemented by the government.

DESVARIEUX: Alright. Sana Saleem, joining us from Pakistan.

Thanks for being with us.

SALEEM: Thank you.

DESVARIEUX: And thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.

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

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.

Posted in Yemen0 Comments

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.

Posted in USA, Yemen0 Comments

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


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