Drones Speak for America in Yemen

On January 7, 2014, Amnesty International issued its latest warning as part of a seemingly endless demand for US accountability in Yemen. Nearly a month prior, on December 12, a US Reaper drone bombarded a wedding party near Rada’a and sent 12 people to untimely deaths. Investigations of US strikes in the country have unfolded at a notoriously slow pace, or else not all, depending on the level of media scrutiny and local damage among Yemen’s many tribes. Rada’a is no different, with US officials offering few comments beyond the packaged regret that accompanies an errant strike. “US officials have responded to Amnesty International’s concerns by referring to President Obama’s May 23, 2013 speech at National Defense University, in which he reaffirmed his commitment to the rule of law and transparency. Yet the Administration’s unwillingness to acknowledge and investigate potentially unlawful killings flies in the face of that commitment.”

The Obama administration claims it is internally investigating the strike’s casualties, the possibility of being fed false intelligence and the overall launch process of targeted strikes. But who expects an investigation to change the system? In Yemen particularly, its astute activists and street revolutionaries have become accustomed to the US government’s false friendship and the excuses, propaganda and hostility that lie underneath. President Barack Obama had his chance to reform US-Yemeni relations after his now-infamous Cairo speech, but no actual initiative followed to befriend the Yemeni people.

Instead, they became a collective pawn of international politics and a casualty of the long war against al-Qaeda’s hydra. When revolution spread from Tunisia and Egypt in January 2011, the Obama administration initially backed Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh until the murderous actions of his familial autocracy were no longer publicly defensible. However Saleh’s vice president of 19 years, Abd Rabbuh Mansur al-Hadi, was quickly selected as a replacement by the US and Saudi governments, along with Yemen’s other so-called “friends,” the United Nations and Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC). Saleh also received the parting gift of immunity from the UN and GCC for vacating his position in February 2012. It would be revealed later that the Obama administration utilized this period to establish drone operations inside the country, near the southern port of Aden and along the Saudi Arabian border.