Image: BBC

US Drones on Yemen: 'al-Qaida's Public Relations Officer'

As the Obama administration continues surge of drone attacks, Yemenis see innocent lives lost

As the U.S. continues to bombard Yemen with drones this weekend, one Yemeni activist says that for ordinary people of Yemen, there is very little difference between what al-Qaeda and the U.S. are doing to the country.

On Saturday, the U.S. unleashed its ninth drone strike in two weeks on the poverty- and water crisis-stricken country, striking a car traveling through Lahj province and killing at least two people described by corporate media reports as militants or suspected militants.

Whether or not the charred remains of those killed were actually Al-Qaeda militants is unknown, and the U.S., while acknowledging the use of drones on Yemen, "does not publicly comment on the practice."

One Yemeni tweets that at least two civilians, including one child, have been killed in this recent drone blitz, with possibly three other civilians among the dead.

In an op-ed titled "Who Are US Drones Killing in Yemen -- and Why?," Daphne Eviatar of Human Rights First writes that

while U.S. government officials have happily reported intercepting an alleged phone conversation among al Qaeda leaders (the details of which keep changing) that prompted the embassy closures and evacuations, they've provided no information on who the United States has killed in retaliation with its latest drone strikes, or why.

That's no small omission.

As a matter of international law, the United States only has the right to kill members of armed forces it's at war with, or civilians directly participating in hostilities in war. And it is hardly clear that the U.S. is "at war" with anyone in Yemen. Outside of war, the rules for killing are much stricter: The U.S. can only kill individuals who pose an imminent threat to human life that cannot be ameliorated by means other than lethal force.

So is that who the military and CIA have killed over the past two weeks? Who knows?

McClatchy reported on Friday on how the drone surge "has ignited widespread outrage in the country":

Outrage over the strikes has spread to the capital, where the dismay over their frequency was heightened by their timing, during the final days of Ramadan and the start of the Eid al Fitr holiday, one of the holiest and most festive times of the Islamic year. The anger built on tensions caused by two days of unprecedented flyovers of the capital by one or more manned, American-made spy planes.

Further, U.S. actions to wipe out "terrorists" are counter-productive. Yemeni youth activist and writer Farea al-Muslimi writes that "in its recent actions, the US has become al-Qa'ida's public relations officer."

In an op-ed in the Independent on Sunday, al-Muslimi continues:

As the country was waiting for Eid to finish so that the US-funded and supported National Dialogue Conference could resume and eventually finish negotiations on the coming constitution, the US suddenly, via the drones, sent a message that such an entity and its delegates were much less important, and would be taken less seriously, than the shared enemy of both Yemenis and the US - al-Qa'ida.
It is obvious, as never before, that outside interference in Yemen has been intended not to create a better, democratic and stable Yemen, but instead to prevent its security problems getting worse in the eyes of pilots of drones based thousands of miles away.

The gap between the US - the US of hovering planes and deadly drones - and al-Qa'ida has actually shrunk in the eyes of many Yemenis: there is very little difference between what the two are doing to ordinary people. Innocent lives are lost due to the actions of both. They are both hurting people and distorting the image of Yemen. The only difference is that the US shapes its thinking on Yemen by studying statistics. The other knows Yemen's history, culture, memories, sensitivities, laws and traditions. Both are now seen to destabilise the country almost equally and lead it toward less peaceful choices.

Al-Muslimi brought his powerful voice to a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on drones in April, when he described the terror and anger they have brought Yemenis.

In his testimony, he said that "the drone strikes are the face of America to many Yemenis."

The Bureau of Investigative Journalism estimates that as many as 52 civilians have been killed by confirmed drone strikes in Yemen from 2002 through July 2013.

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