US Drone Obliterates Civilians in Yemen

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Common Dreams

US Drone Obliterates Civilians in Yemen

At least fifteen people are killed or wounded in bombing

A pickup truck that was allegedly hit by a US drone in the al-Bayda province. (Photograph: Stringer/EPA)

A Yemen military official on Saturday says that at least fifteen people were either killed or wounded when a missile from a U.S. drone struck vehicles traveling on a road in the central province of al-Bayda.

Among the dead, according reports, are what the official claimed were targeted al-Qaeda militants traveling in two vehicles and also non-targeted passers-by traveling on the same road when the powerful U.S. bomb hit.

According to Reuters, "tribal sources said a drone had been circling al-Bayda for days and on Saturday struck two cars the suspected militants were in. Three civilians who happened to be in a nearby car were also killed, they said."

A security source told Reuters that the missile "targeted cars that suspected al Qaeda militants were in and killed 13 of them."

The Associated Press, however, reports that a "Yemeni official" said nine of the victims in the attack were militants while at least six were "innocent civilians."

The discrepancy in the early reporting does nothing to erase the fact that none of those killed in the bombing were given the opportunity to defend themselves or declare their innocence before being obliterated by what is assumed to be a U.S. Air Force drone operator controlling the aircraft from thousands of miles away.

Yemen is among a handful of countries where the US acknowledges using drones to wage war against militants linked to al-Qaeda, though it continues to comment on the practice that critics say is both an affront to human rights and international law.

As Common Dreams reported earlier this month, Yemenis say the constant threat of U.S. drones buzzing overhead and the fear of being caught up in an airstrike is not only a form of 'psychological torture' but it is actually making the security situation in Yemen worse, not better.

"Entire communities are being killed off and families are being torn apart," said Rooj Alwazir, an anti-drone organizer based in Yemen. "Many people are living in constant fear because they could be next, creating widespread and long-term psychological torture. Many young boys are afraid to gather and children stop going to school and families stop gathering."

"As a result," she added, "the drone program fails to achieve their purpose. Instead of keeping the U.S. and Yemenis safe they end up breeding animosity and tearing apart the social fabric of some of the poorest and marginalized communities in the world."

And in a feature-lenth article for Rolling Stone this month, journalist Vivan Salama reports on "Death From Above: How American Drone Strikes Are Devastating Yemen."

According to Salama, the mystery of who is and who is not targeted by "the American planes that shoot" (as one young girl described the drones) is central to the U.S. targeted killing campaign that is devastating the country:

For the people here who have no ties to Al Qaeda or any militant groups, the constant stress of the drone threat has warped long-standing cultural norms. Mothers are increasingly keeping their children home from school or forbidding them from going to mosque for fear that they might be handed a DVD or SIM card containing propaganda or information linking to Al Qaeda. Just the mere possession of Al Qaeda propaganda or an accidental run-in with a suspected militant is enough, locals believe, to be deemed a legitimate target for the drones. "We don't know who is with Al Qaeda," says Oum Saeed, a middle-aged mother of ten, "but the drones know."

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