“The Drone strikes have made more mistakes than AQAP (Al-Qaeda on the Arabian Peninsula) has ever done”
Today for the first time the US senate (Drone Wars, The Constitutional and Counterterrorism Implications of Targeted Killing) heard from a Yemeni, Farea al -Muslimi, a youth activist, writer and freelancer who has lived under the menace of US drones.
LISTEN DIRECTLY TO THE TESTIMONY OF FAREA ON VIDEO LINK AS HE PRESENTS EVIDENCE TO THE US SENATE HEARING… AND DESCRIBES A RECENT DRONE STRIKE ON HIS VILLAGE, WESSAB
Check out Farea’s recent article. “My Village Was Attacked By US Drones in Yemen”
READ MORE FROM FAREA ON THE IMPACT OF US DRONES ON HIS COUNTRY
AMERICA’S KILLING MACHINES
Yemenis pay in blood for Washington’s automated war
By Farea al-Muslimi
Yemen is not just a land of many problems — its sky has problems too. The receding annual rainfall from the clouds above has made way for another precipitant: missiles from remote-controlled American aircraft. The United States has been flying armed drones over Yemen since 2002, targeting Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) and recently these strikes have increased dramatically. The Obama administration has authorized more airstrikes and drone attacks in the past two years than Bush did during his eight years in office. Far too often civilians are paying the price. In 2012 alone, US missiles killed at least 185 Yemenis in as many as 90 strikes.
Among the tactical changes of the Obama administration has been its “signature drones” policy, by which drone operators can engage targets based solely on “suspicious behavior” observed through telescopic cameras far above, rather than on hard intelligence gathered on the ground. In a country where, in remote areas, people carry guns like people in the West carry iPhones, this policy makes almost everyone a “legitimate target”. Consequently, the tragedies have increased.
US drones have killed hundreds of Yemeni men, women and children with no connection to AQAP, aid workers and even prominent leaders working at the behest of the US government in rural Yemen. American embassy cables released by Wikileaks revealed how former President Ali Abdullah Saleh had secretly offered the US political cover for the drone program, telling former Central Command General David Petraeus, “We’ll continue saying the bombs are ours, not yours.”
His successor, the current president, Abdu Rabu Mansour Hadi, has been far less discrete, publicly endorsing drone operations in late September on a visit to Washington praising their accuracy and technological advancement. Former opposition leaders, who once lambasted Saleh for allowing US drones to violate Yemen’s sovereign skies, have remained silent. Facing growing public outrage over the drone strikes, these leaders, especially from the Islah Muslim brotherhood in Yemen, are also pressuring their supporters to remain quiet as well.
President Hadi’s support for the drones has made him a darling of the US — the American ambassador said in a press conference that the US’ relationship with Hadi was even stronger than it was with Saleh and that America would be happy if he ran in the presidential elections again in 2014 — but to the average Yemeni, it makes their first freely elected president in decades look like an American puppet. Remember, a main catalyst for the uprising that overthrew Saleh was that he was accountable to Washington rather than his own people. Local opponents to Hadi are thus amassing a political, legal and moral war chest against the president.
Importantly, neither the Yemeni nor the American government has paid any type of compensation to the innocent victims of drone strikes, while AQAP has an extensive record of compensating the families of civilians inadvertently harmed during its operations. Indeed, AQAP has become an outlet for Yemenis bent on revenge after losing relatives to American missiles, making the drone program a crucial tool of AQAP’s recent recruitment drive, contrary to the loud denials of American security experts. It must be said that these “experts” rarely have a clue what is happening in Yemen given that they almost never travel beyond the perimeter of their five-star hotels in the capital, Sanaa. Were they to, they would see how many Yemenis recoil at even the words “American military” and how strong a patriarchal position Al Qaeda has built out of the drone program. It has learned that its war with America is a war of mistakes — the fewer you make, the more you win and drones are simply far more prone to mistakes than AQAP.
In America, drones are a fascinating technology in a videogame war where US soldiers neither put themselves at risk nor feel the blood on their hands of those they kill. This has made American policy makers arrogant and overbearing when it comes to even discussing drones, an attitude that history will not treat kindly. Like the McNamara policy in Vietnam of counting enemy corpses as a metric of success, the US drone policy in Yemen will embody America’s moral erosion in our times.
This article was first published in Executive Magazine, February 2013.
US DRONE BLOW UP ANY HOPE OF CLOSE TIES WITH YEMENIS
by Farea al-Muslimi
Late last year I escorted the US radio journalist Kelly McEvers to Abyan, a governorate in South Yemen. Before we boarded the plane in Beirut, I had told McEvers that I would assure her safety. As one of the rare Americans who understands Yemen well, she knew that I was saying I would do whatever it took to protect her, putting her personal security above my own. Government troops and local militias had been battling fighters from Ansar Al Sharia, an Al Qaeda affiliate, and had forced them from the area only two days earlier. There were reports that some had shaved their beards and stayed. If they had known an American reporter was around, they would have had a golden opportunity for a kidnapping.
As it happened, the people of Abyan were hospitable and friendly, although their region had been badly damaged by the fighting.
On the edge of the town of Ja’ar, while interviewing some local people, we heard a noise overhead. People peered into the sky until the sharp sunlight forced their heads down. Their expressions changed to alarm – the sound was that of a US drone, they said.
I suddenly felt as if McEvers and I were the dead still walking. I feared for her life not because of a threat from Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), but because of her own government’s deadly drones.
The US had already changed my life by giving me generous scholarships. The most recent one transformed me from a young shepherd in Yemen’s mountains into a student at one of the best universities in the world, the American University of Beirut, and into a speaker who has travelled the globe to talk about my country.
Through a previous scholarship, I had been able to attend high school in the US. There I had some exceptional experiences with my American friends. One of the families I met had a son in the US air force, a man of genuine faith and honesty. On Fridays he would come with me to the mosque to learn about Islam, and on Sundays I went with him to church to learn about Christianity. We developed an amazing understanding and an almost storybook friendship across the cultural divide.
Home after that year in the US, I told my mother – who has spent her life toiling in the fields, never learnt to read and knows nothing of the world beyond her farm – how great my American family and friends were.
The next Friday she waited outside the mosque for the imam, whose sermons were regularly filled with hatred against the American people. When he emerged, she confronted him: “I swear if you continue your stupid preaching against Americans, I will cut out your tongue. You don’t know how nice they are.”
But now, as we stood on the edge of Ja’ar hearing the drone buzz overhead, a thought wouldn’t leave my mind: the person remotely piloting this drone may have been my best friend in America.
I couldn’t stop thinking how my mum would regret her words to the preacher, and how she – and our whole village – would become bent on revenge if my best friend pressed the button to incinerate us. That beautiful understanding, that bridge my American friend and I had built, was collapsing as the Predator came closer.
According to the US military’s “signature strike” policy in Yemen, the operator piloting a drone – likely from a control centre thousands of kilometres away – does not need actual intelligence information to unleash a strike.
In an area like Abyan, the operator is authorised to fire a missile based solely upon “suspicious behaviour” of even one individual.
This policy, instituted by President Barack Obama, has allegedly resulted in the deaths of hundreds of innocent Yemenis, and unfortunately it does not differentiate among militants, ordinary Yemenis and US radio reporters.
Since the policy took effect, AQAP has been successful as never before. Those who have lost relatives to drone fire make up a whole new generation of AQAP recruits.
The drones have made it difficult, shameful and even dangerous to say “America can be befriended”, or “America is not an enemy”.
In 2008, when Mr Obama was elected, my Yemeni friends and I celebrated more than my American friends. We were inspired by his story and by the change American values could bring to humanity, especially regarding minority rights. We were happier still when he won the Nobel Peace Prize.
In 2012, we hoped that as Mr Obama celebrated re-election he would for a while be too busy to sign off on any more drone strikes. But less than 24 hours after his second inauguration, a drone struck a district not even an hour from Sanaa.
Just as Americans wait for the postman to deliver the mail, children in Abyan, such as 12-year- old Mamoon, who survived a drone attack, wait for America to send them more messages from the sky. If this is the only thing America sends, what will they learn?
On Christmas day, while American children were opening presents from Santa, another Santa visited Yemeni kids; two strikes resulted in at least 10 killed and injured. The number of drone hits is increasing, and high-level US envoys don’t bother to suggest that Yemen is anything but a war zone.
The godfather and long-term defender of the drones programme, John Brennan, has been named director of the CIA, which does not suggest an end to the drones is coming anytime soon.
As AQAP stabs Yemenis in the back, America stabs them in the face. Every time we think of ourselves as the new Tunisia, the US shows that it thinks of us as the new Afghanistan.
Published @ The National; February, 25, 2013
Farea’s blog can be found here
Carol Anne Grayson is an independent writer/researcher on global health/human rights and is Executive Producer of the Oscar nominated, Incident in New Baghdad. She is a Registered Mental Nurse with a Masters in Gender Culture and Development. Carol was awarded the ESRC, Michael Young Prize for Research 2009, and the COTT ‘Action = Life’ Human Rights Award’ for “upholding truth and justice”.