The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) have filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request for information on the legal basis for a strike that occurred in Yemen on December 17, 2009. The United States had been allegedly targeting Saleh Mohammed al-Anbouri, a “known militant who had allegedly been ‘bringing nationals from different countries to train them to become al Qaeda members. At least one cruise missile with cluster munitions was launched and killed not only Al-Anbouri but also forty-one civilians, including women and children.
The ACLU and CCR specifically seek details(pdf)on the following:
We seek information about the U.S. government’s legal basis in domestic, foreign, and international law for the U.S. military strike on the al-Majalah community,information about the U.S. government’s decision-making process and factual basis for ordering that strike, and information concerning any investigations or assessments of the strike by or at the behest of the U.S. government. We specifically seek records concerning the U.S. government’s knowledge that civilians, including women and children, were present in thecommunity, the measures taken to fulfill the United States’ legal obligation to limit civilian casualties, and any measures taken by or at the behest of the United States to compensate victims’ surviving family members for the loss of civilian life and property caused by the strike. Finally, we request information concerning U.S. government efforts to conceal its responsibility for the al-Majalah strike.
Weeks ago, the Bureau of Investigative Journalism (TBIJ), based in the United Kingdom, published a study of the US drone war in Yemen and highlighted the massacre. Twenty-two children were killed. A dozen women were killed. Five of the women killed were pregnant. [A complete list of the victims has been published by TBIJ.]
Yemen’s parliament convened a “Commission of inquiry into the security incidents in the Abyan province.” What the Commission found when visiting the cemetery was “grisly.” The victims were buried in “communal graves” because they could not be identified. “Their bodies had been completely torn into pieces during the attack.” Tribal leader, Sheik Saleh Ben Fareed, told journalist Jeremy Scahill anyone who had a “weak heart” would “collapse” if they saw the remains of those killed. “You see heads of those who were killed here and there. You see children,” Fareed added. “And you cannot tell if this meat belongs to animals or to human beings. Very sad, very sad.”
The US refused to speak about the civilians killed in this drone strike. A State Department spokesperson told TBIJ, “I don’t have any information for you with respect to the December 17, 2009 incident in question. I refer you to the Government of Yemen for additional information on its counterterrorism efforts.” It was a mendacious reference as the ”counterterrorism efforts” have been and continue to be carried out by the Yemen government under the direction of the US government.
The ACLU and CCR also request information on the State Department’s diplomatic coverup of the massacre, which WikiLeaks exposed in its release of US State Embassy cables.
After the Al-Majalah massacre, US diplomats and military officers worked to cover up the attack. A January 2010 cable detailed a meeting between President Ali Abdullah Saleh and then-CENTCOM commander General David Petraeus. Saleh told Petraeus the Yemen government would continue to say “the bombs are ours, not yours.” The Yemen government would cover up the attacks to help the US keep them covert. And, though Saleh expressed concern about the inaccuracy of the missiles and the number of civilians killed, he promised to help the US avoid an investigation.
The Yemen government apologized to the victims. They “paid out compensation at local levels to affected families.” The US State Department and CENTCOM, which hold responsibility for the covert operation that killed the civilians, did nothing. That is why TBIJ asked the State Department what investigations the US carried out into the December 17 attack, what further investigations were conducted after the commission inquiry by the Yemeni parliament, what disciplinary measures have been taken against US personnel involved, and what compensation, if any, was paid by the US to surviving members of the families attacked on that day.
There is a level of urgency to the request for information. The number of attacks in Yemen has escalated; attacks there now occur more frequently than drone strikes in Pakistan. The US government, however, has withheld legal and factual information that justifies the use of lethal force in a country “with which the United States is not at war.” The secrecy suggests that much of the covert drone war violates international and domestic law. The refusal to address what happened with the al-Majalah strike makes it highly likely that this is another war crime the US has committed in the “war on terrorism.”
CIA seeks to expand Yemen drone campaign against random people
The CIA is seeking authority to expand its covert drone campaign in Yemen by launching strikes against terrorism suspects even when it does not know the identities of those who will be killed, U.S. officials said.
Securing permission to use “signature strikes” would allow the agency to hit targets based solely on intelligence indicating patterns of suspicious behavior, such as imagery showing militants gathering at known al-Qaida compounds or unloading explosives.
The practice has been a core element of the CIA’s drone program in Pakistan for several years. But Director David Petraeus has requested permission to employ the tactic against the al-Qaida affiliate in Yemen, which has emerged as the most pressing terrorism threat to the United States, officials said.
If approved, the change would probably accelerate a campaign of U.S. airstrikes in Yemen that is already on a record pace, with at least eight attacks in the past four months.
from the seattle times, via the washington post