Obama in Yemen: Killing Civilians, Bolstering Dictatorship, and Bombing in Secret
The Bureau of Investigative Journalism has published a must-read interview with Yemeni-American journalist Hakim Almasmari, “a reporter for CNN and editor of the Yemen Post.” Hakim is on the ground in Yemen and says that civilian casualties are systematically under-reported, that recently-installed US client General Hadi is making deals with al-Qaeda, that the US is increasingly making Yemen even more of a dictatorship, and that drone strikes are not the only kind of airstrikes taking place in Yemen.
“Civilian casualties are almost never reported,” he said. “The only time when they are reported is when independent sources confirm the news to me and the government officially acknowledges those civilian casualties. But most of the time they are never reported, only when the government is forced to report it.”
A few days ago NPR published a story containing interviews of civilians in Yemen who have survived US drone strikes, some severely injured. These survivors as well as the families of other civilians killed told the NPR reporters that they seek revenge on America for the killings and that some have already joined al-Qaeda and Ansar al-Sharia in order to avenge the killings of their loved ones. There has been some recent push back within the mainstream trying to deny the reality of blowback from America’s drone wars, but this report helped prove it further. And as Hakim says, civilian casualties happen very frequently, contrary to propaganda about drones being precision weapons, but are just never reported.
Hakim also mentions recent prison breaks in which “five senior [al-Qaeda] members escaped a prison” yesterday and two days ago “two suspected al-Qaeda militants escaped Aden prison,” with the help, he claims, of the Hadi government.
“Al-Qaeda needed to evacuate to give the government a good image,” he said, “but in return they will be given their leaders or members released from prison. This will make al-Qaeda weaker today but stronger tomorrow.”
Q: You think there was something underhand in these prison escapes?
HA: Yes, this is not just a random prison escape. Eighty-eight suspected al Qaeda militants have escaped prison over the last four months alone. It’s a strategy – President Hadi needs to be powerful, he needs the image of being a leader. And sometimes that could mean cooperating or coming to agreement with al Qaeda to evacuate, but in return have some of their members released and further dialogue continues under the table between the government and al Qaeda.
Although its not entirely clear what’s going on with this claimed Hadi-Qaeda cooperation, this should sound familiar. The previous US puppet in Yemen President Saleh, had allowed al-Qaeda militants to gain ground in the country in order to show Washington how much they needed him. “Since the mujahedeen war against the Soviets in Afghanistan in the 1980s and continuing after 9/11,” Jeremy Scahill wrote in February, “Saleh has famously milked the threat of Al Qaeda and other militants to leverage counterterrorism funding and weapons from the United States and Saudi Arabia, to bolster his power within the country and to neutralize opponents.”
Hakim then says that the Yemeni government is kept almost completely ignorant of the US airstrikes in Yemen, despite how the Obama administration likes to portray the situation as being one of US-Yemeni cooperation. “And the US is helping Yemen become more of a dictatorship rather than an institutional nation. By allowing the drone strikes and no one knowing about it, this way people cannot stand against it or approve it,” he says.
In perhaps the most important segment of the interview, Hakim says drone strikes aren’t all that’s going on in Yemen.
Q: The Washington Post has confirmed that US conventional aircraft have been flying missions over Yemen as well as drones. Have you been able to report on this?
HA: There have been three kinds of US strikes: drone strikes, jets coming from Djibouti and strikes coming from the water, from US navy ships. These are the three kinds of attacks that we have been able to confirm from numerous officials in Yemen and all of them have been used in different ways.
Drones have often been used by the Obama administration in order to make it seem somehow less than a true engagement of hostilities. If US soldiers never leave their video game chairs in Nevada or wherever, it’s easier for Congress and the American people to believe that whatever is going on is not officially hostilities, or war. But Obama can’t claim that if US fighter jets and offshore navy vessels are bombing Yemen. If they are, then the administration is violating US law which requires the President to inform Congress of military actions abroad. Actually, President Obama very quietly did inform Congress of actions in Yemen in a letter that slipped by nearly unreported. The letter was vague and certainly didn’t mention fighter jets and naval guided missiles, but was enough to be able to cite as an acknowledgement if ever anyone calls on the administration to stop engaging in war in Yemen without telling Congress or the American people.