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How America's Killer Drone Strikes Undermine Yemeni Democracy

Yemen's multi-party National Dialogue Conference voted last month to criminalize drone strikes, but America's war continues in the country.

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“Blowback" is a lesson the United States government should have learned in the mountains of Afghanistan, the streets of Iraq and the wild territories of Pakistan: Be careful what you sow, because you will reap it tomorrow.

A small delegation of CODEPINK peace activists travelled to the beautiful country of Yemen in June (and yes, despite the images in Western media of a dangerous country overrun by terrorists, it is a country rich with culture and a welcoming population).

We were greeted with some wise words from Abdul-Ghani Al Iryani, a political analyst and founder of Tawq, Yemen's Democratic Awakening Movement: "In the fight against al-Qaeda and the extremism it represents, we can do it the easy way, by killing, and thus have to do it again and again, or the hard way and really solve the problem. To truly fight al-Qaeda and similar groups, we must deal with the root causes of its growth - poverty, injustice, lack of rule of law…and drone strikes."

That last part - Iryani's inclusion of drone strikes as a  root cause  of extremism -seems to be lost on the Obama administration (as it was with the George W. Bush team).  In what has come to be a trademark "kill-first-analyse-later- only-if-challenged" intervention style, Obama has authorised nine drone strikes in Yemeni territory since July 28, in a kneejerk response to intercepted Internet "chatter" suggesting an imminent terrorist attack against Western targets somewhere in the world.

To date, 38 individuals labelled as "suspected militants" have been assassinated, although US officials admitted to  The Washington Post that they have "no indication that senior al-Qaeda operatives in Yemen have been killed…It's too early to tell whether we've actually disrupted anything. What the US government is trying to do here is to buy time."

So, basically, the US government is pre-emptively retaliating in response to a vague threat by infiltrating another country and killing people without any certainty of who they are, whether they are involved in an internal struggle or trying to kill Americans, or if their murder would actually have any effect - "just to buy time".

Innocents caught in the crossfire

When we were in Yemen, we met with many families whose loved ones were injured or killed by drone strikes - becoming "collateral damage" as the United States (sometimes with the Yemeni government's overt or covert cooperation) killed anyone suspected of affiliation with al-Qaeda, along with their unfortunate companions and neighbours.

Here is just one of the many stories we heard as we travelled the country:

It was 9 am on a Tuesday and Ahmed Abdullah Awadh was at home with his 26-year-old son, Majed, in the small village of Ja'ar in southwestern Yemen. Suddenly, they heard a loud explosion. The house of Awadh's neighbour, a man he described as "an ordinary taxi driver," was hit. Everyone in the largely residential neighbourhood, including Awadh and his son, ran to see what happened and help rescue anyone who was hurt.

The 33-year-old taxi driver was dead; fortunately, the rest of his family had not been at home. Fifteen minutes later, as neighbours were still sorting through the rubble, there was a second strike in the same spot. This time, with almost the entire neighbourhood concentrated in one location, the entire block was reduced to rubble, about 20 residents were injured and another 14-26 died - including Majed.

"Majed was burned over 50 percent of his body," recalled Awadh through an interpreter. "But there is only an emergency clinic in Ja'ar, and they said he was too seriously injured to be treated there. The nearest hospital is in Aden, and the main road was closed. It took four hours to get there. I held him in my arms while we were driving, and he kept bleeding. On the third day in the hospital, at  2:30 am , Majed's heart stopped and he died."

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