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Questions Over Obama's 'Targeted Killing' Program Linger After Yemen Drone Strike

Why was he killed when he could have been easily captured? wonder family, neighbors of suspected al-Qaida operative

Common Dreams staff

Questions following a US drone strike in Yemen that killed a supposed al Qaida-linked operative raise more red flags about the Obama administration's "targeted killing" program.

The questions surround the assassination of Adnan al-Qadhi, who, less than 24 hours after Obama's re-election, was killed by a US drone near Beit al Ahmar, several miles from the capital of Sanaa.

McClatchy reported Wednesday that family members and neighbors of al-Qadhi demand to know why he was taken out in a drone attack when he "could have been captured easily," while Yemeni political analyst Abdulghani al Iryani says:  “It is nearly inconceivable to imagine that he could not have been taken into custody alive.”

McClatchy adds:

“He may have supported al Qaida, but he wasn’t taking part in activities,” said Abdulrazzaq Jamal, a Yemeni journalist and analyst who met with Qadhi shortly before his death. “There were connections, but there wasn’t perceptible tangible support.”

While Qadhi appeared to make little secret of his extremist ideology, his relatives said the strike against him came as a total shock. There had been no indication that he was a potential drone target, they said. Had they known he was considered such a high-value target, they claimed, they would’ve assured his cooperation with the authorities.

“We could have made sure he turned himself in,” said Himyar al Qadhi, Adnan’s brother. “If Adnan was guilty of any crime, then arrest him, put him on trial.”

Still reeling from the loss, Himyar, standing at his brother’s gravesite, was open about seeking revenge. The impact crater from the missile that killed Qadhi is little more than a dip in the road now, but local outrage still burns.

“What way is this to kill a person, in such a place?” said Qalil Lahib, owner of the land where the strike took place, pointing out civilian homes and a nearby school as he stood over the missile site. “It’s shameful, it’s a crime.”

Investigative blogger Marcy Wheeler points out that the killing of al-Qadhi goes against the very rules of when drone strikes are used as presented by presidential counterterrorism adviser John Brennan. Wheeler writes:

Back in April–the last time Drone Assassination Czar John Brennan was making a big show of the purported order of his drone program–here’s some of what he said about who the US targeted with drones.


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Even if it is lawful to pursue a specific member of al-Qaida, we ask ourselves whether that individual’s activities rise to a certain threshold for action, and whether taking action will, in fact, enhance our security. For example, when considering lethal force we ask ourselves whether the individual poses a significant threat to U.S. interests.  This is absolutely critical, and it goes to the very essence of why we take this kind of exceptional action.


I am not referring to some hypothetical threat, the mere possibility that a member of al-Qaida might try to attack us at some point in the future.  A significant threat might be posed by an individual who is an operational leader of al-Qaida or one of its associated forces.  Or perhaps the individual is himself an operative, in the midst of actually training for or planning to carry out attacks against U.S. persons and interests.


In addition, our unqualified preference is to only undertake lethal force when we believe that capturing the individual is not feasible. [my emphasis]

Of course, I’ve suggested that the entire speech was bullshit, just an attempt to prepare an intent-based defense in case Brennan ever got in trouble for killing so many illegitimate targets.

But the case of Adnan al-Qadhi appears to show that John Brennan can’t even follow the rules he has claimed publicly he follows.

Further, at least one other person is reported to have been killed in the strike that took out al-Qadhi, a fact that raise questions not only over the legality of killing the intended target but also over what seeds of revenge these attacks are sowing.  Gregory Johnson analyzed on his blog Waq al-Waq [h/t Paul Mutter]:

So, even if the accusations against al-Qadhi were true and he was involved in the 2008 US Embassy attack and even if the US did have intelligence that he was about to carry out an attack on US personnel in Yemen or planning a strike against the US – did the US also have intelligence that all of the other individuals within the car were also involved?

This is important. The US has carried out, by my best estimate, between 37 – 50 strikes this year in an attempt to kill 10 – 15 people. Many of those 10 – 15 people are still alive (see: Nasir al-Wihayshi, Said al-Shihri, Qasim al-Raymi, Ibrahim Asiri and so on) but people are dying in Yemen.

And while we in the US may not feel or realize this, it is very real in Yemen. And this is causing problems and – I continue to say – is one of the key reasons behind the rapid growth of al-Qaeda in Yemen.

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