The remarkable London-based legal charity, Reprieve(i) which defends lives “from death row to Guantanamo Bay”, providing legal support for prisoners unable to pay for themselves, have released a letter to President Obama, and Yemen’s President Hadi from Faisal bin Ali Jaber, a Yemeni engineer who lost his nephew and brother-in-law in a US drone strike on Hadhramout Governorate, in August 2012.
The letter was released to coincide with the meeting between President Obama and President Hadi at the White House at which Obama spoke of the visit reinforcing: “the strong partnership and cooperation that’s developed between the United States and the government of Yemen” and thanking President Hadi and his government for the strong cooperation that they’ve offered when it comes to counterterrorism.”(ii) Translation, give license for the US to execute, without Judge or jury, people like Mr Jaber’s relatives, on Obama’s signature.
The day the letter was released, there was another strike on Hadhramout, with its wadis, crops of wheat, millet, coffee, date palm and coconut groves and herds of sheep and goats.
Further, as [former] Rep. Ron Paul has just written:
“Most Americans are probably unaware that over the past two weeks the US has launched at least eight drone attacks in Yemen, in which dozens have been killed. It is the largest US escalation of attacks on Yemen in more than a decade.”(iii)
Mr Jaber does not see the US extrajudicial assassinations as “counterterrorism” and appeals to President Obama to take heed of the anti-drone anger in Yemen. He writes:
“Our family are not your enemy. In fact, the people you killed had strongly and publicly opposed al-Qa’ida (his brother-in-law) Salem was an Imam. The Friday before his death, he gave a guest sermon in the Khashamir mosque denouncing al-Qa’ida’s hateful ideology. It was not the first of these sermons, but regrettably, it was his last.”
“Our town was no battlefield. We had no warning – our local police were never asked to make any arrest. My young cousin Waleed was a policeman, before the strike cut short his life.”
Here is the letter in full. That “international community” should hang its collective head in shame:
Dear President Obama and President Hadi:
My name is Faisal bin Ali Jaber. I am a Yemeni engineer from Hadramout, employed by Yemen’s equivalent of the Environmental Protection Agency. I am writing today because I read in the news that you will be meeting in the White House on Thursday, August 1, to discuss the “counter-terrorism partnership” between the US and Yemen.
My family has personally experienced this partnership. A year ago this August, a drone strike in my ancestral village killed my brother-in-law, Salem bin Ali Jaber, and my twenty-one-year-old nephew, Waleed.
President Obama, you said in a recent speech that the United States is “at war with an organisation that right now would kill as many Americans as they could if we did not stop them first.” This war against al-Qa’ida, you added, “is a just war – a war waged proportionally, in last resort, and in self-defense.”
President Hadi, on a trip to the United States last September, you claimed that “every operation [in Yemen], before taking place, (has) permission from the President.” You also asserted that “the drone technologically is more advanced than the human brain”.
Why, then, last August, did you both send drones to attack my innocent brother-in-law and nephew? Our family are not your enemy. In fact, the people you killed had strongly and publicly opposed al-Qa’ida. Salem was an Imam. The Friday before his death, he gave a guest sermon in the Khashamir mosque denouncing al-Qa’ida’s hateful ideology. It was not the first of these sermons, but regrettably, it was his last.
In months of grieving, my family have received no acknowledgement or apology from the U.S. or Yemen. We’ve struggled to square our tragedy with the words in your speeches.
How was this “self-defense”? My family worried that militants would target Salem for his sermons. We never anticipated his death would come from above, at the hands of the United States. In his death you lost a potential ally – in fact, because word of the killing spread immediately through the region, I fear you have lost thousands.
How was this “in last resort”? Our town was no battlefield. We had no warning – our local police were never asked to make any arrest. My young cousin Waleed was a policeman, before the strike cut short his life.
How was this “proportionate”? The strike devastated our community. The day before the strike, Khashamir buzzed with celebrations for my eldest son’s wedding. Our wedding videos show Salem and young Waleed in a crowd of dancing revellers, joining the celebration. Traditionally, this revelry would have gone on for days – but for the attack. Afterwards, it was days before I could persuade my eldest daughter to leave the house, such was her terror of fire from the skies.
The strike left a stark lesson in its wake – not just in my village, but across Hadramout and wider Yemen. The lesson, I am afraid, is that neither the current U.S. or Yemeni administrations bother to distinguish friend from foe. In speech after speech after the attack, community leaders stood and said: if Salem was not safe, none of us are.
Your silence in the face of these injustices only makes matters worse. If the strike was a mistake, the family- like all wrongly bereaved families of this secret air war – deserve a formal apology.
To this day I wish no vengeance against the United States or Yemeni governments. But not everyone in Yemen feels the same. Every dead innocent swells the ranks of those you are fighting.
All Yemen has begun to take notice of drones – and they object. Only this month, Yemen’s National Dialogue Conference, a quasi-Constitutional Convention which I understand the U.S. underwrites, almost unanimously voted to prohibit the unregulated use of drones in our country.
With respect, you cannot continue to behave as if innocent deaths like those in my family are irrelevant. If the Yemeni and American Presidents refuse to engage with overwhelming popular sentiment in Yemen, you will defeat your own counter-terrorism aims.
Thank you for your consideration. I would appreciate the courtesy of a reply.
Faisal bin Ali Jaber
Defining Drone Deaths in Yemen
Media present dubious official claims as fact
August 13, 2013
The United States has reportedly carried out nine drone attacks in the last few weeks in Yemen, generating headlines about the targeting and killing of suspected Al-Qaeda militants in the impoverished country.
But how can media know for sure who is being killed?
The uptick in attacks is apparently related to the alleged terrorist chatter that prompted the U.S. government to close down embassies and diplomatic offices. To hear the media tell it, the U.S. is striking at terrorist fighters.
“An American drone delivers a deadly message to Al-Qaeda,” announced the CBS Evening News (8/7/13). Correspondent Bob Orr reported, “For the fifth time in two weeks, U.S. drones fired on militants. Seven suspected operatives riding in two cars were killed by a barrage of missiles.”
On August 8, when Evening News anchor Norah O’Donnell asked, “Who is being targeted by these drone strikes?,” Orr answered:
Well, sources tell us that most of those killed so far had been terrorist foot soldiers…. It’s worth noting, though, even the elimination of rank-and-file operatives does have value; it reduces the group’s manpower, and, more importantly, it forces the other terrorists to keep an eye on the skies.
The New York Times ran an Associated Press story (8/9/13) that led, “Three American drone strikes in Yemen on Thursday killed a total of 12 people suspected of being members of Al-Qaeda, a Yemeni military official said.” The piece went on to note that “since July 27, drone attacks have killed 34 suspected militants, according to a count provided by Yemeni security officials.”
Two days later, the CBS Evening News (8/11/13) declared that “just this week, drone strikes in the country may have killed at least two dozen suspected Al-Qaeda militants, according to Yemeni officials.”
And on ABC‘s This Week (8/11/13), correspondent Martha Raddatz said that those the government suspects of plotting a major attack “were not killed in those strikes in Yemen, but the dead are part of what they called the network of terrorists trying to kill Americans.”
But how would anyone have any confidence about who is dying in the drone strikes in Yemen? If the information about targets comes from the Yemeni government, journalists might consider the fact that it is also fighting the same group–Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula–and thus might have an interest in declaring victories over its foe, and a reluctance to admit that its U.S. allies are killing innocent citizens. The Bureau of Investigative Journalism estimates that U.S. drone strikes in Yemen may have killed more than a hundred civilians since 2002.
As the Washington Post (12/24/12) reported under the headline “When U.S. Drones Kill Civilians, Yemen’s Government Tries to Conceal It,” the Yemeni government “has often tried to hide civilian casualties from the public, fearing repercussions in a nation where hostility toward U.S. policies is widespread.”
Some outlets have expressed caution, like this McClatchy report (8/9/13):
While Western news reports have cast casualties of the next strike, on Aug. 1, as militants, locals in the area of Hadramawt where it took place have claimed that the dead had no links to the al Qaida group and included a child.
As for the strikes dealing any sort of blow to the group, another report from the Post (5/30/12) noted that “an unintended consequence of the attacks has been a marked radicalization of the local population.” The paper added:
In 2009, when President Obama was first known to have authorized a missile strike on Yemen, U.S. officials said there were no more than 300 core AQAP members. That number has grown in recent years to 700 or more, Yemeni officials and tribal leaders say.
And it appears that the United States has broadened its rules for who it considers a target. As the New York Times (8/12/13) reported, a “senior American official” acknowledged that the terrorist threat has “expanded the scope of people we could go after.” The official explained:
Before, we couldn’t necessarily go after a driver for the organization; it’d have to be an operations director…. Now that driver becomes fair game because he’s providing direct support to the plot.
Given that the administration had previously defined militants as military-age males in the vicinity of a target (Salon, 5/29/12), one would hope reporters would take official claims–from U.S. or Yemeni officials–with a grain of salt.
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