The US Still Doesn’t Want to Admit to the 44 Dead Yemenis

In a timely report, the Bureau of Independent Journalism yesterday released a report on the increased number of US drone strikes in Yemen in the last year, since Arab Spring uprisings challenged Ali Abdullah Saleh’s power and insurgents made significant gains in the south.

Covert US strikes against alleged militants in Yemen have risen steeply during the Arab spring, and are currently at the same level as the CIA’s controversial drone campaign in Pakistan, a new study by the Bureau reveals.

At least 26 US military and CIA strikes involving cruise missiles, aircraft, drones or naval bombardments have taken place in the volatile Gulf nation to date, killing hundreds of alleged militants linked to the regional al Qaeda franchise. But at least 54 civilians have died too, the study found.


The recent surge in attacks appears linked to the appointment of the new president, Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi. In his inauguration speech he called for ‘the continuation of war against al-Qaida as a religious and national duty.’

Along with an update on drone strike numbers in Yemen, TBIJ released the results of a report the Yemeni government commission did into the December 17, 2009 strike in which–the report concludes–44 civilians were killed. The report provides names and ages of those civilian victims; half are children. It also describes the lethal effect of cluster bombs included in the missiles.

This is the attack, of course, that journalist Abdelelah Haider Shaye reported on, one of the reasons, presumably the President Obama personally intervened to keep Shaye in prison. And the Yemeni government found even more civilians had died in the attack than Shaye first reported.

Among other things, the release of the report gave TBIJ to ask State–WikiLeaked cables from which clearly confirm the US role in this strike–for comment on the strike. And in spite of irrefutable evidence we were behind the attack, here’s what State said to TBIJ.

A State Department spokesperson, speaking on background terms, replied: ‘I don’t have any information for you with respect to the December 17, 2009 incident in question. I refer you to the Government of Yemen for additional information on its counterterrorism efforts.’

It’s bad enough that State pretends to know nothing of this strike. But at this point, deferring questions to Yemen really destroys our credibility.

Marcy has been blogging full time since 2007. She’s known for her live-blogging of the Scooter Libby trial, her discovery of the number of times Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was waterboarded, and generally for her weedy analysis of document dumps.

Marcy Wheeler is an independent journalist writing about national security and civil liberties. She writes as emptywheel at her eponymous blog, publishes at outlets including the Guardian, Salon, and the Progressive, and appears frequently on television and radio. She is the author of Anatomy of Deceit, a primer on the CIA leak investigation, and liveblogged the Scooter Libby trial.

Marcy has a PhD from the University of Michigan, where she researched the “feuilleton,” a short conversational newspaper form that has proven important in times of heightened censorship. Before and after her time in academics, Marcy provided documentation consulting for corporations in the auto, tech, and energy industries. She lives with her spouse and dog in Grand Rapids, MI.

3 replies
  1. MadDog says:

    DOD and JSOC initially owned the Yemen strike operations because the CIA was too busy elsewhere (Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iraq), and I wonder if that still doesn’t remain the case?

    The types of strikes that the Bureau reports recently occurred still seem to bear the heavy-hand fingerprints of military operations rather than a somewhat more circumspect intelligence agency.

    And when SCSI Chair Senator Diane Feinstein asserts that she and the rest of SCSI are well and truly plugged into all US covert strikes, I can’t help but wonder whether that simply isn’t true.

    CIA strikes, I’ll tentatively buy, but stuff done by DOD and JSOC, I remain unconvinced.

  2. emptywheel says:

    @MadDog: In Yemen, CIA runs the actual drone strikes launched from over Yemen’s airspace. JSOC operates those launched from ships in international waters (which is what this strike was). Not sure who’s in charge of strikes launched form Djibouti or the new base on the border between Saudi Arabia and Yemen.

  3. MadDog says:

    @emptywheel: Yeah, I’m not sure who’s running the strike show now that the CIA has those new drone basing digs somewhere next door (Oman?) to Yemen.

    In any event, it really is amazing that the State Department actually still pretends that their cables were never made public by Wikileaks.

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