The Obama administration has intensified the American covert war in Yemen, exploiting a growing power vacuum in the country to strike at militant suspects with armed drones and fighter jets, according to American officials.
…On Friday, American jets killed Abu Ali al-Harithi, a midlevel Qaeda operative, and several other militant suspects in a strike in southern Yemen. According to witnesses, four civilians were also killed in the airstrike. Weeks earlier, drone aircraft fired missiles aimed at Anwar al-Awlaki, the radical American-born cleric who the United States government has tried to kill for more than a year. Mr. Awlaki survived.
I predicted as much a few days ago in a blog post on Yemen’s power vacuum and the potential for a covert approach:
My guess is that for the moment the Saudis are in the front seat in terms of external influence, and I speculate that any decisive action by the U.S. will be kept secret for now. Yemen is too unpredictable and potentially dangerous from the perspective of the Obama administration, but also extremely important to maintain dominion over because of its geography as well as the concentration of al Qaeda there.
Much of where the action is in Yemen right now is in urban areas. Unlike the mountains of Pakistan which are often more rural with less population density, any unwanted progress on the part of targeted Yemeni groups will be in these population centers. This makes the specter of mounting civilian casualties from drone strikes much more significant. Since it is secret, we are unlikely to know the truth about how many civilians are actually killed or how many targets are actually al Qaeda rather than some other group the U.S. prefers not gain influence. The bottom line is that the current official policy towards Yemen is one in which high civilian casualties are expected and in which alleged enemies, including American citizens, are murdered without charge or trial. And we’re not meant to know anything about it.
Most amazing, though not surprising, from all this that while some at least question (albeit meekly) the legitimacy of such a murderous and lawless policy, nobody even begins to suggest that perhaps those in charge of setting and implementing this policy should be held accountable for the consequences of it. Just as an example, Stephen Walt just wrote today that he received an email from the Council on Foreign Relations about the release of a report entitled “Justice Beyond the Hague: Supporting the Prosecution of International Crimes in National Courts.” It argues that the U.S. ought to do a better job of engaging international courts so that they can better investigate and prosecute war crimes and other atrocities. “Sounds laudable,” Walt writes, “except the report is almost completely silent on whether the United States also needs to do a much better job of investigating and prosecuting U.S. officials who might be guilty of war crimes themselves.”
As I’ve written before, if international court systems do not address the world’s greatest aggressor, their reason for being dissolves.