Impunity, Death, and Blowback: Report Exposes Illegal US Drone War in Yemen

A new investigation into the United States’ killer drone campaign in Yemen, published Tuesday, finds that not only does that program fail to conform to protocols established by U.S. President Barack Obama, but that the strikes have in fact led to increased anti-American sentiment and greater regional destabilization.

The study by the Open Society Justice Foundation comes as Yemeni civilians, already under siege, face even greater threat from international “counterterrorism” efforts as a U.S.-backed attack on that country has killed an estimated 364 civilians, including at least 84 children and 25 women.

The report, Death by Drone: Civilian Harm Caused by U.S. Targeted Killings in Yemen (pdf), found that since President Obama’s May 2013 assertion that drone attacks should only be conducted if there is “near-certainty that no civilians will be killed or injured,” eight civilians, including two children, were killed in four separate strikes.

“This report goes to the question of the inevitability of civilian casualties with drone strikes,” Phyllis Bennis, senior fellow at Institute for Policy Studies, said in an interview with Common Dreams. “The administration can make the claims it wants about standards of near certainty, but this report make clear they are not abiding even by that.”

Through extensive research including the gathering of eye-witness accounts, report authors uncovered the details of nine cases in which a total of 39 civilians, including 5 children, were killed or injured by drone attacks between May 2012 and April 2014.

And Abdulrasheed al Faqih, executive director of Yemen-based Mwatana Organization for Human Rights, which co-authored the report, said: “In incident after incident, eye-witnesses told us of watching civilians being burned alive, or of losing parents, siblings and children in U.S. drone strikes. Civilians wanted to know why they had been targeted when they were not affiliated with al-Qaeda. They wanted justice.”

In addition to conducting the strikes in complete secrecy and refusing to acknowledge the identities or number of civilians killed, the U.S. and Yemen governments have never instituted any means of reparations for civilian harm as a result of U.S. drone strikes.

 “I believe that America is testing its lethal inventions in our poor villages, because [it] cannot afford to do so at any place where human life has value. Here, we are without value.”
—Moqbel Abdullah Ali al-Jarraah, a villager from Silat al-Jarraah