The Damage Abdulrahman Al-Awlaki Was Collateral To? Not Dead.

I’m not sure which details from Michelle Shephard’s story on 16-year old Adbulrahman Al-Awlaki’s death in a US drone strike are most compelling. I find the description of the carnival rides Abdulrahman snuck past as he ran away from home to go look for his father haunting.

Abdulrahman al Awlaki crossed the front yard past potted plants and a carnival ride graveyard — Dumbo, Donald Duck, an arched seal balancing a beach ball — debris from his uncle Omar’s failed business venture to install rides in local shopping malls.

I’m intrigued by the report that Ali Abdullah Saleh denied to Nasser al-Awlaki, Adbulrahman’s grandfather and Anwar’s father, that he had any role in Anwar’s death.

“(Deposed Yemeni president) Saleh sent me a message through the former prime minister that said, ‘Tell Dr. Nasser I swear to God that I have nothing to do with the killing of his son,’ ” Nasser said.

By far the most infuriating, however, is the juxtaposition of Leon Panetta’s boasts of how accurate the targeting on these drone strikes are with Shephard’s reminder of the previously reported news that the claimed target of the strike that killed Abdulrahman, Ibrahim al Bana, was not killed in the attack.

It later emerged, but was not widely reported, that the strike did not kill its purported target, AQAP’s media chief, Egyptian Ibrahim al Bana.

[snip]

Defence Secretary Leon Panetta responded to questions about drone use during a 2009 public appearance when he was the head of the CIA.

“I think it does suffice to say that these operations have been very effective because they have been very precise in terms of the targeting and it involved a minimum of collateral damage,” he said.

That’s what we call American teenagers now: a minimum of collateral damage. To a target that our purportedly precise targeting somehow missed.

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.

7 replies
  1. MadDog says:

    Then we should juxtapose this story with the Kimberly Dozier AP piece I just put up as a comment in Jim’s post.

    Of particular note, I direct you to this part:

    “…In the meantime, the White House has raised the bar to who the CIA is allowed to target, applying new limits and all but curtailing so-called “signature strikes” where CIA targeters deemed certain groups and behavior as clearly indicative of militant activity…”

    That is in regard to our drone strikes in Pakistan.

    As far as I can tell, no such limitation on “signature strikes” whether by the CIA or JSOC (supposedly the US organization that killed Abdulrahman) is in effect in Yemen.

    Make no mistake about it. The US is involved in a war in Yemen.

    Via UPI, this was just from 2 days ago:

    Yemen slides into chaos amid new clashes

    “Strife-battered Yemen is sliding deeper into chaos amid a power struggle that’s ripping the army apart while U.S. Special Forces and the CIA step up their largely secret war against al-Qaida as it battles government forces for control of the south.

    The covert U.S. campaign, waged in conjunction with Yemeni military forces, mainly employs unmanned aerial vehicles flown from the U.S. base at Djibouti, across the Gulf of Aden from Yemen, and a secret base believed to be in Saudi Arabia.

    Sometimes, U.S. strike jets are reportedly to be used.

    On March 18, the al-Qaida positions in the southern port city of Zinjibar were hit by what Yemeni officials called missile fire from the Gulf of Aden.

    The Long War Journal, which monitors global counter-terrorism operations, observed, if missiles were fired, “they were most likely fired by U.S. Navy warships.

    “The Yemeni navy does not possess the capability to conduct such strikes; its missile boats and corvettes fire only anti-ship missiles,” the Long War Journal said…”

  2. MadDog says:

    @MadDog: I want to re-emphasize the “US at war in Yemen” aspect.

    Remember the hullaballoo about the US’s involvement in taking down Qaddafi in Libya? The uproar about whether the Obama Administration need Congressional authorization of a Declaration of War?

    And the Obama Administration belatedly offered up an OLC opinion (14 page PDF) that basically said that as long as the US had no “boots on the ground”, no Congressional authorization of war was required.

    So let’s unpack what the US has been and is doing in Yemen:

    1) US Navy and Marine aircraft dropping bombs and firing missiles.
    2) US Navy warships firing missiles and naval gunfire.
    3) CIA drone strikes piloted by Air Force pilots and/or CIA employees/contractors.
    4) Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) drone strikes piloted by Air Force pilots and/or contractors.
    5) JSOC Special Operations forces on the ground in Yemen.

    That sounds like a whole lot more than just “boots on the ground”, doesn’t it?

    So the question arises that given all of the above, what parts of that OLC opinion about the Obama Administration not needing Congressional authorization for a Declaration of War that applied to Libya are now in conflict with what the US has been and is doing in Yemen?

    I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. The Gulf of Aden may become the Obama Administration’s Gulf of Tonkin.

    The Obama Administration’s position is likely that the Congressionally-approved 9/11 AUMF is all the authority they need to conduct the Forever War (otherwise known as GWOT).

    Just like LBJ said that the Congressionally-approved Gulf of Tonkin resolution was all the authority he, and then Richard Nixon, needed to conduct the 10 year long Vietnam War.

    And just to add icing to the cake, I’m willing to bet that the Obama Administration also considers a mere Congressional “covert action” notification to the Gang of Eight as sufficient in regard to what the US is doing in Yemen.

    After all, this is merely an Intelligence operation being conducted covertly, isn’t it? Yeah, sure!

  3. spanishinquisition says:

    “It later emerged, but was not widely reported, that the strike did not kill its purported target, AQAP’s media chief, Egyptian Ibrahim al Bana.”

    What a surprise that they’d only selective leak what makes their assassination program looks good. These guys don’t want transparency or public scrutiny and instead just want to kill people at will without having to explain.

  4. matt carmody says:

    In addition to Yemen, there’s a Marine squadron based in Djibouti and there’s part of a Headquarters and Service Group there providing security, cooks, clerks, mechanics, etc.
    Where the hell are the voices in congress that will challenge this creeping authority of the executive to start and spread wars without the consent of congress and the American people.

  5. rugger9 says:

    @matt carmody: #4
    Any voice that speaks up will be pilloried as traitorous, something quite deadly in an election year, so it won’t happen.

    We simply don’t have enough guns and bullets to kill them all, regardless of the NRA’s wet dreams.

    And, something like this can be used by the Awlaki family in the wrongful death suit they need to file ASAP, we have Panetta claiming super accuracy, yet they didn’t hit the target. Kind of like “Wrath of Khan”, and the US will end up as Khan does.

  6. Kris says:

    as i recall from glenn greenwald: “News reports, based on government sources, originally claimed that Awlaki’s son was 21 years old and an Al Qaeda fighter (needless to say, as Terrorist often means: “anyone killed by the U.S.”)”

    either they had bad intel and abduhrahman was targeted as a “fighter” and changed to “collateral damage” after they found out their target was 16 instead of 21 thanks to the press looking at his birth certificate

    or abdulrahman was in fact collateral damage from the get go and they lied in initial reports so they could claim “no collateral damage from drones” and then the press called them on it.

    considering that the person they said was the real target is still alive i am inclined to believe that abdulrahman was the original target. and that the intel community didn’t bother doing their homework becore calling a strike. collateral damage? i think not.

    while it is also possible that his son was both 16 and a “fighter” leading to some sort of gray area. But their allegations against Awlaki in the underwear bomber case make him out to be more of an advisory figure and not a battle leader surrounded by “fighters.”

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