Karman Argues Against Amnesty for Saleh as al-Awlaki Family Continues Protests

A portion of a photo of Abdulrahman al-Awlaki from his Facebook memorial page.

As I wrote yesterday, the family of Anwar al-Awlaki and his son, Abdulrahman, has spoken out against the US killing of these two American citizens, one just 16 years old, in separate drone strikes in southern Yemen.  The birth certificate of Abdulrahman has now been released to confirm his age and to counter false media reports that he was over 20 years old.  In addition, the family has provided the name and age of a 17 year old cousin, Ahmed Abdulrahman al-Awlaki, who was killed in the same strike with Abdulrahman last Friday while they were enjoying a nighttime barbecue.

So far, I’ve seen no claims issued by the US that Abdulrahman was a militant.  Instead, the implicit assumption is that Abdulrahman was collateral damage in a strike that was targeted at  Ibrahim al-Bana, who is described as the media chief for al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula.  By contrast, Anwar al-Awlaki was placed on Obama’s official “hit list” of persons targeted for killing.  The US has made multiple accusations against him, but those allegations have not been substantiated.  Here is the Indian publication Frontline on the veracity of the US accusations:

After the events of September 11, 2001, Awlaki was among the small group of radicalised American Muslims who threw in their lot with Al Qaeda. His sermons in English with an American accent urging Muslims to wage jehad against the West reputedly had a wide fan following on YouTube and other websites. After a U.S. Army officer of Palestinian origin, Major Nidal Mallik Hassan, went on a killing spree in a military base at Fort Hood in November 2009, Awlaki’s name hit the headlines. It was reported that the U.S. Army veteran was in touch with Awlaki before he went on the rampage in which 13 people were killed. Awlaki had denied having encouraged Hassan in any way but later praised his act saying that it had prevented the U.S. soldiers who were killed from being deployed in Afghanistan or Iraq where they “would have killed Muslims”.

Awlaki was also blamed for attempts to blow up American passenger planes, though the claims have not been substantiated. The Obama administration linked Awlaki with the failed Christmas 2009 attempt of Umar Farrouk Abdulmutallib, the “underwear bomber”, to bring down a Detroit-bound plane. Awlaki was also accused of playing a key role in the October 2010 “mail bomb” plot. Packets containing bombs, originating from Yemen and bound for the U.S., were intercepted in Dubai and Europe. In May 2010, a Pakistani-American who tried to detonate a car bomb in Manhattan told the U.S. authorities that he was inspired by Awlaki’s sermons.

In one of his sermons recorded in early 2010, Awlaki urged American Muslims to stage attacks. “Jehad against America is binding upon myself just as it is binding on every other able Muslim.”

But if reports in the Arab media are anything to go by, Awlaki was only a minor cog, used mainly for propaganda purposes, in Al Qaeda’s major network. His fluency in both English and Arabic coupled with his knowledge of the Quran helped him gather a big fan following, especially among the youth. Experts on Yemen have said that he had no operational role in Al Qaeda. The top commanders are Yemenis and Saudis who have been leading the fight against the U.S. presence in the region for many years. The AQAP’s main leadership continues to be intact and is no doubt busy hatching new terror plans. Awlaki was forced to flee into the desolate mountain region where his tribe is located and where Al Qaeda has a presence in order to escape from the Americans, who had put a bounty on his head.

The failure of the US to provide any substantiation for its allegations against Anwar al-Awlaki is telling.  Marcy has written extensively on the propensity of Obama Administration figures in the intelligence community to leak classified information that puts the administration in a good light.  There have been no such leaks with details confirming the allegations against al-Awlaki, so the information above from Frontline stands as a fairly strong impeachment of US claims.

In very closely related news regarding Yemen and the US, the Financial Times has a long article this morning detailing how Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh has stolen millions of dollars, perhaps even from US funding provided for counterterrorism activities, with his son has using up to $5 million to purchase luxury real estate in the Washington, DC area:

New York Times story last year said there was a sense in Yemen that the country was run as “a family corporation.” A 2005 State Department cable, written by an officer at the U.S. Embassy in Sanaa and released this year by WikiLeaks, made the case that “Rampant official corruption impedes foreign investment, economic growth, and comprehensive development.” The State Department’s most recent annual human rights report on Yemen says that “officials frequently engaged in corrupt practices with impunity” and that international observers “presumed that government officials and parliamentarians benefited from insider arrangements and embezzlement.”

“It’s a poor country, so there isn’t a lot of money to steal, but because it’s poor it needs every dollar it can get,” David Newton, who served as U.S. ambassador to Yemen between 1994 and 1997, told me. “Corruption really hurts.”

President Barack Obama’s administration — which has been targeting suspected al Qaeda militants operating in Yemen with drone strikes, including U.S.-born cleric Anwar al-Awlaki, who was killed in late September — has worked closely with Saleh’s government on counterterrorism matters but has spoken out against the regime. During his address to the U.N. General Assembly on Sept. 21, Obamasaid Yemenis calling for Saleh’s ouster were seeking to “prevail over a corrupt system” and that “America supports those aspirations.”


Stephanie Brancaforte, the Berlin-based campaign director for Avaaz, a global human rights group that has worked extensively on Yemen and that alerted me to the D.C. properties, criticized U.S. policy. “Saleh’s forces have not only killed protesters — they have inflicted a humanitarian crackdown by intentionally cutting off water and electricity to millions of people,” she said. “The U.S. invested more than $100 million to fight terrorism in Yemen, but that money has primarily gone to prop up a corrupt family…. Meanwhile, the average Yemeni is less likely to be a victim of terrorism than malnutrition.”

Fortunately, there is a powerful voice speaking out against Saleh and especially against the current efforts to grant Saleh and his family immunity in return for him leaving office.  Yemini activist Tawakul Karman is one of three winners of this year’s Nobel Peace Prize.  From Reuters:

Yemeni Nobel peace laureate Tawakul Karman made an impassioned plea to the United Nations on Tuesday to repudiate a Gulf Arab plan that would grant immunity to her country’s “war criminal” president.

Karman, who was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize jointly with two Liberian women this month, arrived in New York as the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council circulated a draft resolution to the full 15-nation body. That proposal urges the swift “signature and implementation” of the Gulf Arab plan, under which Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh would be immune from prosecution.

“The youth’s peaceful revolution is against the GCC (Gulf Cooperation Council) initiative, especially because it gives immunity to Saleh and his family,” Karman told reporters at a demonstration near the United Nations, where she was greeted by a cheering crowd of around 150 Yemeni supporters.

“We don’t think that the Security Council will be trapped in a resolution that will give immunity to the regime,” said Karman, who dedicated her Nobel prize to the Arab uprisings and to those killed in the upheavals.

Just as the Obama Administration was too slow to withdraw its support for the Mubarak regime during the Egyptian uprising, once again former Nobel Peace Prize laureate Obama finds himself continuing to provide lavish support for a corrupt war criminal, this time in Yemen, while the subjects of the war criminal languish in enforced poverty and suffer abuse.

Many years ago, Jim got a BA in Radiation Biophysics from the University of Kansas. He then got a PhD in Molecular Biology from UCLA and did postdoctoral research in yeast genetics at UC Berkeley and mouse retroviruses at Stanford. He joined biosys in Palo Alto, producing insect parasitic nematodes for pest control. In the early 1990’s, he moved to Gainesville, FL and founded a company that eventually became Entomos. He left the firm as it reorganized into Pasteuria Biosciences and chose not to found a new firm due a clash of values with venture capital investors, who generally lack all values. Upon leaving, he chose to be a stay at home dad, gentleman farmer, cook and horse wrangler. He discovered the online world through commenting at Glenn Greenwald’s blog in the Salon days and was involved in the briefly successful Chris Dodd move to block the bill to renew FISA. He then went on to blog at Firedoglake and served a brief stint as evening editor there. When the Emptywheel blog moved out of Firedoglake back to standalone status, Jim tagged along and blogged on anthrax, viruses, John Galt, Pakistan and Afghanistan. He is now a mostly lapsed blogger looking for a work-around to the depressing realization that pointing out the details of government malfeasance and elite immunity has approximately zero effect.
8 replies
  1. MadDog says:

    Unless one or more of the disparate groups of anti-government Yemenis themselves send Saleh off to his maker, I have no doubt that he can obtain the Saudis’ usual succor of immunity obligingly offered to any and all dictators and mass murderers who have the gelt to pay the bills.

  2. matt carmody says:

    Karman was the subject of a thirty minute profile on al-jazeera back in February. I’m surprised Saleh’s goons and his American sponsors haven’t killed her yet. She’s a very determined and smart woman.
    The Palestinians can’t get any justice at the UN but this murderer and gonif can get whatever he wants. Congress on the East River, corruption unabated.

  3. rugger9 says:

    The family needs to sue Obama to force this out. It needs to happen in the USA, for violations of the kids’ civil rights, and even if the courts squelch it on National Security grounds, the marker will still be there for everyone to see.

    Wonder what Sasha and Malia think of this.

  4. rugger9 says:

    @Jim White: #5
    I hope they do, because this was murder in its basest form. In CA it may even qualify for capital punishment due to the multiple victims, deliberate targeting [e.g. “lying in wait”], and the use of Hellfires. I would also find out who ordered the strike in the USA [the ops are based here] and sue them jointly and severally for the same things. Only when the US options are exhausted would I go to the ICC, because the expected WH obstruction would then be a matter of court record.

    The USG may see the light and settle as they did with Hatfill [Amerithrax Contestant #1], but the Al-Awlaki family should hold out for 100M$ per at least, as well as the release of the kill list procedures and criteria.

  5. Jim White says:

    Good news — the ACLU is jumping in:

    Today the ACLU filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request seeking information about the legal and factual basis for the targeted killings of three U.S. citizens in Yemen. Last month, Anwar al-Awlaki and Samir Khan were killed when unmanned drones operated by the CIA and the U.S. military fired missiles at the car in which they were traveling. Last week, al-Awlaki’s 16-year-old son, Abdulrahman al-Awlaki, was killed in a similar drone strike.

    The killing of three American citizens raises serious and troubling questions about whether the U.S. government was acting lawfully when it placed Anwar al-Awlaki’s name on a “kill list” and when it ordered the deadly drone strikes. But the government is hiding behind a veil of secrecy and is refusing to publicly release information about its justifications for killing U.S. citizens far from any active battlefield. We know from reports in the press that the Department of Justice Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) produced a memorandum providing legal justifications for killing al-Awlaki and that he was placed on a so-called “kill list” by a secret group of government officials. The government refuses to release the OLC memo or any other information about the legal and factual bases for killing Anwar and Abdulrahman al-Awlaki and Samir Khan, however.

  6. alinaustex says:

    Would it be wise to have somepublic & transparent procedure to revoke the citizenship of Americans that advocate acts of war and terrorism against the United States ? And once the citizenship is revoked then the the individual could be placed on the kill/capture list ? There is credible evidence that the shootings at Ft Hood were preciptated by al Awalki ‘s sermons.
    For me at least this is not an easy question – unlike torture which is illegal – the killing of al Alwaki or the Sheikh in my mind is responding to clear and present danger to these United States.
    What if the underwear bomber would have brought down the inbound flight to Detroit Christmas 2009 ?

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