‘Growing hatred of US’: Yemeni testifies to Senate on drone program fallout
Washington’s drone war has turned Yemenis against the US and sparked “intense anger and hatred,” which Al-Qaeda has exploited for recruitment, according to witness testimony at the Senate’s first public hearing about the legality of drone strikes.
Yemeni writer Farea Al-Muslimi has revealed the shock and hatred felt towards the US after a drone bombed his home, the village of Wessab: “The attack terrified thousands of simple, poor farmers,” Muslimi told the Senate Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Human Rights in its hearing titled ‘Drone Wars: The Constitutional and Counterterrorism Implications of Targeted Killing.’
"The drone strike and its impact tore my heart, much as the tragic bombings in Boston last week tore your hearts and also mine," he added. “What radicals had previously failed to achieve in my village… one drone strike accomplished in an instant: There is now an intense anger and growing hatred of America.”
Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula is using US drone strikes to “promote its agenda and try to recruit more terrorists,” Muslimi explained.
The drone attack on Muslimi’s village killed an Al-Qaeda leader and four militants, according to Reuters. But Muslimi argued that the target was already known to many in Wessab, and Yemeni officials could have easily arrested him if the US had made the request.
US assistance to Yemen often goes unnoticed by most of the local population, as they are completely preoccupied by the drones flying overhead. “The drone strikes are the face of America to many Yemenis,” Muslimi said.
Peter Bergen, director of the National Security Studies Program at the New America Foundation, testified that in 2012, Obama authorized at least 46 drone strikes in Yemen, while former President George W. Bush had launched only one.
Lawmakers have demanded that the Obama administration provide more transparency in the increasingly secret US drone war. The public hearing was previously postponed, as the panel was hoping that the administration would send an official to testify, but it did not.
US drone strikes have proven controversial: A UN team investigating casualties in Pakistan said that US drone strikes violated the country’s sovereignty. The Pakistani government claimed that at least 400 civilians have been killed by US drones.
Also, leaked classified reports have confirmed that US drone attacks in Pakistan are not always precision strikes against top-level Al-Qaeda terrorists, as claimed by the Obama administration. Rather, many of these attacks are aimed at suspected low-level tribal militants, who may not pose a direct danger to the US.
The Obama administration’s drone war undermines the rule of law, Rosa Brooks, professor of law at Georgetown University Law Center argued in her testimony: “When a government claims for itself the unreviewable power to kill anyone, anywhere on earth, at any time, based on secret criteria and secret information discussed in a secret process by largely unnamed individuals, it undermines the rule of law.”
Brooks also recalled the Justice Department’s leaked memo on targeted killings, and how the Obama administration’s novel conception of an ‘imminent’ threat of attack – a requirement for the use of force abroad – “seems, in itself, like a substantial departure from accepted international law definitions of imminence.”
“That concept of imminence has been called Orwellian, and although that is an overused epithet, in this context it seems fairly appropriate,” Brooks added.
After the 9/11 terror attack, the US began to launch drones from bases in Pakistan and Uzbekistan for combat missions inside Afghanistan. More than a decade later, after killing almost 5,000 people – many of whom are believed to civilians, including women and children – Washington has expanded the use of the remotely controlled aircraft into Yemen, Somalia and especially Pakistan.
Northern and western Africa have rapidly become new frontiers in the drone war. The US has set up a drone base in Djibouti, on the Horn of Africa, and flies unarmed Reaper drones out of Ethiopia. Washington has also carried out surveillance flights over East Africa from the island nation of the Seychelles.
In the US, protest has raged over the use of the robotic killing machines to assassinate thousands around the world. Recently, hundreds gathered in front of the White House to demonstrate against drone strikes on foreign soil.