Armies of Liberation

Jane Novak's blog about Yemen

US Attorney General Holder affirms “lawful” use of drones (no attacks targeting civilians)

Filed under: Air strike, Counter-terror, Diplomacy, South Yemen, USA, Yemen — by Jane Novak at 9:59 am on Thursday, March 8, 2012

In a speech this week, the US Attorney General Eric Holder laid out the Obama administration’s legal criteria for drone use and in particular for assassinating American al Qaeda members abroad. The criteria is summarized below by the Lawfare blog. More importantly than the targeting of Anwar Awlaki and Samir Khan for me, and for the residents of Abyan, Marib, Shabwa, etc., AG Holder reaffirmed the Obama administration’s firm commitment to act within the “international rules of war.”

With the recent uptick in AQAP activity and growing territorial occupation, people too poor to flee al Qaeda are terrified of both AQ and drone attacks. Hopefully this statement by AG Holder represents a real and ongoing commitment by the Obama administration to the principle of civilian immunity and US respect for the value of Yemeni lives.

AQAP does not follow the rules of war, and uses human shields, sheltering in civilian populated areas. The US has been targeting vehicle convoys, not towns. The shelling in Zinibar was from the Yemeni military, not US drones.

After grave US errors like al Mahfad (and the utterly shameful US statement that nearby Bedouins and their children were guilty of material support for selling vegetables, although the villagers had appealed to local authorities to expel the terrorists) and Saleh’s murder of his political enemy Sheik al Shabwani via US drone, visible US drones make parents very concerned. At the same time, the drones have been visible in Marib and many other locations since 2010, and I would think they are collecting surveillance photos.

I think/hope/pray the US understands that these are unwillingly occupied towns, that intel from the Saleh family is entirely unreliable, the CT units have been partially subverted by AQ and that in all cases, children under 14 cannot be terrorists.

The attitude of Yemenis is that al Qaeda should be captured, given a fair trial and imprisoned if there is actual evidence of crimes. They do not oppose counter-terror operations per se but summary execution without trial, just like many Americans who raised objections over Awlaki and Khan.

Boston Herald: Speaking at Northwestern University law school, Holder gave the most complete explanation to date of the Obama administration’s legal rationale for killing people like U.S.-born Anwar al-Awlaki, who was targeted in an airstrike in Yemen last year.

Such killings can be ordered “in full accordance with the Constitution” but require “at least” an imminent threat in a situation where capture is not feasible, and when the strike is “conducted in a manner consistent” with the rules of war, Holder said.

The lawfare summary brings up another issue though, “a senior operational role,” which presupposes that the US knows who it is droning. While the criteria Holder outlined is for deliberate targeting of US citizens, it would be nice to think that the US has some clue as to the names of its Yemeni targets and doesn’t just look for random gatherings of bearded men. In Yemen, the most accurate fatality listing of US drone strikes comes from al Qaeda itself, and the Yemeni government announced Qasim al Reimi was dead four times.

While I imagine there are vast challenges to intelligence gathering on AQAP, it is this imprecision that can lead to collateral damage or more accurately, dead children. I still haven’t gotten over the photos of the crucifixion of the “spies,” but logically a modicum of respect for southerners as southerners in general would go a long way. The language of SD spox Victoria Nuland’s Press Briefing 3/5/12 blew southerners minds, and she probably had no clue how very poorly and furiously it would be received.

via Lawfare’s summary: That is, the speech asserts that Due Process permits targeting of a citizen at least when the target is:

(i) located abroad rather than in the United States,

(ii) has a senior operational role

(iii) with al Qaeda or an al Qaeda-associated force,

(iv) is involved in plotting focused on the death of Americans in particular,

(v) that threat is “imminent” in the sense that this is the last clear window of opportunity to strike,

(vi) there is no feasible option for capture without undue risk, and

(vii) the strike will comply with the IHL principles of necessity, distinction, proportionality, and humanity.

What is the acceptable metric of civilian causality per each suspected al Qaeda targeted? Much, much lower than Afghanistan I hope. Its a very volatile situation.

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