Archive | Yemen

Yemeni protesters call for independence of south

NOVANEWS

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

NOVANEWS

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

NOVANEWS

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

NOVANEWS

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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US Drone Strike Targets Yemeni Wedding

NOVANEWS
The Real “Red Wedding”
by ALYSSA ROHRICHT

“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.

Posted in USA, Yemen0 Comments

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

NOVANEWS

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.

Posted in Yemen0 Comments

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

NOVANEWS
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.

Posted in Yemen0 Comments

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