The Jeremy Scahill Yemen Executive Order

For the record, I don’t think the Obama Administration would be so brazen as to freeze Jeremy Scahill’s assets because he reported critically on Obama’s Yemen policy. But the Executive Order they’re rolling out today is reportedly written so broadly so as to make something like that possible.

The unusual order, which administration officials said also targets U.S. citizens who engage in activity deemed to threaten Yemen’s security or political stability, is the first issued for Yemen that does not directly relate to counterterrorism.

Unlike similar measures authorizing terrorist designations and sanctions, the new order does not include a list of names or organizations already determined to be in violation. Instead, one official said, it is designed as a “deterrent” to “make clear to those who are even thinking of spoiling the transition” to think again.

[snip]

The order provides criteria to take action against people who the Treasury secretary, in consultation with the secretary of state, determines have “engaged in acts that directly or indirectly threaten the peace, security or stability of Yemen, such as acts that obstruct the implementation of the Nov. 23, 2011, agreement between the Government of Yemen and those in opposition to it, which provides for a peaceful transition of power . . . or that obstruct the political process in Yemen.”

It covers those who “have materially assisted, sponsored or provided financial, material or technological support” for the acts described or any person whose property has already been blocked, as well as those who have acted on behalf of such people.

The explanation this anonymous official seems to have given Karen DeYoung is that the order is a way to make sure Ali Abdullah Saleh’s family butts out of affairs in Yemen (which would work, given that he presumably does have significant assets in the US). Using Saleh’s wealth as a way to try to keep him out of Yemeni politics is a nice idea (though the agreement itself could have done more to enforce this).

But Saleh’s not a US citizen. So why explicitly include US citizens in the order?

Moreover, since the language borrows material support language from terrorist sanctions, and since terrorist material support extends to First Amendment protected activities (as Tarek Mehanna knows well), and since Obama has already made sure a journalist remains jailed in Yemen, then what protection is there for people who say that using signature strikes in Yemen is boneheaded, or suggesting that investing all our energies in Saleh’s Vice President doesn’t really constitute a meaningful solution in Yemen?

And to make things worse, the anonymous official tries to tell DeYoung that this sanction is not the first of its kind. It was used twice before: in 2006 in Cote d’Ivoire and in 2009 in Somalia. That is, precisely this kind of sanction has been used twice–and has twice failed to do anything to bring about meaningful stability.

But the single most troubling aspect of this EO is that is guaranteed to be selectively enforced. After all, the Saudis aren’t exactly great friends of “political processes” anywhere, particularly in their backyard, and surely they’re waiting to bomb more Houthis. Yet what are the chances that any Administration would freeze the very significant assets of Saudi citizens in the US–even those operating outside official channels?

Update: I haven’t found the EO yet, but Jay Carney’s statement on it emphasizes our cooperation with the GCC, which I guess is yet another guarantee the Saudis will never be sanctioned for intervening in Yemen in unproductive ways.

Today, President Obama signed an Executive Order authorizing sanctions to be imposed on individuals and entities who threaten the peace, security, and stability of Yemen by disrupting the political transition. This Executive Order will allow the United States to take action against those who seek to undermine Yemen’s transition and the Yemeni peoples’ clear desire for change. The President took this step because he believes that the legitimate aspirations of the Yemeni people, along with the urgent humanitarian and security challenges, cannot be addressed if political progress stalls.

Yemen’s transition represents an important step forward for the Yemeni people, who deserve the opportunity to determine their future. The United States strongly supports Yemen’s political transition and will continue to work with our international partners, including the Gulf Cooperation Council, to help Yemen chart a more secure, democratic, and prosperous path forward.

Update: Here’s the Executive Order–reading it now.

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.

25 replies
  1. emptywheel says:

    Now that I consider the timing of this and a few other details, I think that Adam Goldman and Matt Apuzzo probably are the intended target of this. So maybe I underestimated the degree to which the Admin has limits to its brazenness.

  2. edding says:

    This is not unlike what Hedges is fighting in his lawsuit against the Government re: the NDAA.

    The Government has been using the “color of law” to squeeze like a python until 1st Amendment rights and the right of the electorate to express its will are fully destroyed, while at the same time violating international law with war crimes and genocide in the Middle East, Central Asia and Africa.

    The Government has also suggested that its policies were in put into place by prior administrations- e.g., for Somalia and elsewhere- as if there is some sort of precedential value and validation that would accrue from repeating a seriously flawed policy and rule.

    Our tragedy is that Obama had the opportunity to win the hearts and minds of the world with an inclusive and collaborative policy, but instead has continued to wreak some form or other of “shock and awe” on his declared enemies while the people there, and here, suffer and pay for the cost of it.

  3. Jim White says:

    @emptywheel: Or at least parts of the AP. Somehow I see them funneling a bonus to George Jahn to buy a more recent version of Photoshop.

    So we have a President overtly shutting down the press and a Secretary of State de-listing a known terrorist group. If this is what happens under a Democratic administration, what horrors would await us under Mitt with his neocon advisors fully unleashed?

  4. Frank33 says:

    The unusual order, which administration officials said also targets U.S. citizens who engage in activity deemed to threaten Yemen’s security or political stability, is the first issued for Yemen that does not directly relate to counterterrorism.

    If citizens do not support a crumbling, corrupt US puppet, they are Enemies of the State. They can be targeted by the “Intelligence Community”. This is another step to Dictatorship, opposing Dictatorships.

    But this Yemen War on Terror is a joke protected by the Top Secret War Profiteers. Underwear Bomber was put on Flight 253 by the Intelligence Community as a pretext for war in Yemen. The Saudi Bomb maker (note Saudi) who gave Undie, the Bomb is now the new head of Al Qaeda in Yemen. Or he was killed by a Drone. Who can say?

    He adds that the militants “raided and attacked some security sites. They were able to seize these institutions. We were surprised when the governor, his deputies and other local officials fled to Aden.” As the Yemeni military began fighting the militants, General Sumali tells me, men from Yemen’s Central Security Forces fled, abandoning heavy weaponry as they retreated. The CSF, whose counterterrorism unit is armed, trained and funded by the United States, is commanded by President Saleh’s nephew Yahya. (A media outlet associated with the militants reported that they seized “heavy artillery pieces, modern antiaircraft weapons, a number of tanks and armored transports in addition to large quantities of different kinds of ammunition.”)

    But we have seen this movie before. Supplying weapons to corrupt Dictatorships merely transfers weapons to the terrorists or the insurgents or “Bad guys”. The Pentagon, with our tax money is creating the terror and the instabililty and murder, and more enemies. And American citizens are also the Enemy to the Obama Administration.

  5. bsbafflesbrains says:

    I am getting more and more depressed about the future. Obama is a stooge of the 1% and Rmoney is a zealot wannabe. Is the MIC in charge of the .01% or vice versa? That is now an appropriate question, is it not?

  6. InTwitmo says:

    I barely mentioned this topic early a.m. in a tweet, as a question even, and within splits of a second I was in Twitmo, even got a mysterious dead silent call – twice. Careful everyone.

  7. joanneleon says:

    Why are they trying to shut down the AP reporters?

    What I know of the admin’s gripe with AP is:
    1) In recent month’s AP printed a direct, attributed quote from an admin official on a conference call after the admin cited their status quo background rules (even though in this particular case it seemed innocuous, no reason to be quoted as background).
    2) AP found out about the Undie Bomber II situation and they honored the admin’s request to sit on the story for a week. After the admin said there was no longer any danger in reporting it, they released the story but they released it ~ 12-24 hours early (Monday instead of Tuesday) before the admin could make a statement about it.

    What else did they supposedly do wrong? I know there was a lot of hubub about someone disclosing that the Undie Bomber II was a double agent with a British passport, but I thought a foreign agency disclosed that.

    Also, and more importantly, are these two AP journalists on the ground in Yemen? I just read about the Pentagon press conference after the civilian deaths caused by airstrikes or drone strikes. I read that some journalists were trying to ascertain whether it was a U.S. strike and the spokesman was dodging. Is the admin’s problem that journalists on the ground in Yemen will disclose what they see or find out? (Similar to what I understand the reason is for keeping the Yemeni journalist in jail).

    And wow, what’s really going on in Yemen? Why the extreme measures to keep it all under wraps? Is this a political thing? (i.e. Knowing that the popularity of the war in Afghanistan keeps dropping and is in the 27% range now, the admin does not want Americans to realize that he has gotten us into yet another war).

  8. Ford Prefect says:

    Now that the US Marines are directly involved in the Yemeni Civil War (in a direct, combat role), this EO seems geared towards shutting down US media coverage altogether. Here’s the CBS piece:

    http://www.cbsnews.com/8301-202_162-57434370/yemen-u.s-troops-directly-guiding-four-front-assault-on-qaeda-militants-for-first-time/

    So now we have stories in “mainstream” corporate media showing the US now up to it’s neck in a civil war, to support a dictatorship. It also seems Obama is doing this out of service to the Saudis, since they’re the ones having fits over North Yemen. There is also video being shown outside the US of civilian casualties, including little children, killed by Obama’s Kafkaesque “Signature Strikes,” which rather sounds more like an amenity at the Four Seasons than mass murder. (“This dish is one of Chef Obama’s Signature Strikes.”)

    Individual reporters are more likely to have gumption about this than their outlets, whose legal departments are probably freaking out right now at what the White House may do to them if their “reporting” isn’t deemed to be sufficiently obedient to the WH press office’s wishes.

    Here’s what I don’t understand about this: Yemen will likely still be in a civil war a few years from now, so there has to be some reason why the WH thinks it so terribly urgent to wade into this now… in the middle of an election cycle. Why couldn’t it wait until after the election, when they can do whatever they want without any political costs whatsoever?

    Post-election, this EO wouldn’t be necessary to control media coverage domestically. And this is all about controlling domestic coverage, since it could make Obama look pretty bad among his electoral base (Another undeclared war? Now? Why?). Indeed, this sense of urgency, badly timed as it is, seems entirely suspect.

  9. joanneleon says:

    @Ford Prefect: re: the urgency, based on Scahill’s report that Marcy linked above, I wonder what is left of the Yemeni security forces/military. And I wonder if the country, on the whole (including much of Yemen’s military), does not support their new president. After all, unless I am missing something, it sounds a lot like “meet the new boss, same as the old boss.”

    But US policy has enraged tribal leaders who could potentially keep AQAP in check and has, over the past three years of regular bombings, taken away the motivation for many leaders to do so. Several southern leaders angrily told me stories of US and Yemeni attacks in their areas that killed civilians and livestock and destroyed or damaged scores of homes. If anything, the US airstrikes and support for Saleh-family-run counterterrorism units has increased tribal sympathy for Al Qaeda. “Why should we fight them? Why?” asks Sheik Ali Abdullah Abdulsalam, a southern tribal sheik from Shebwa who adopted the nom du guerre Mullah Zabara, he says, out of admiration for Taliban leader Mullah Mohammed Omar. “If my government built schools, hospitals and roads and met basic needs, I would be loyal to my government and protect it. So far, we don’t have basic services such as electricity, water pumps. Why should we fight Al Qaeda?” He says that AQAP controls large swaths of Shebwa, conceding that the group does “provide security and prevent looting. If your car is stolen, they will get it back for you.” In areas “controlled by the government, there is looting and robbery. You can see the difference.” Zabara adds, “If we don’t pay more attention, Al Qaeda could seize and control more areas.”

    http://www.thenation.com/article/166265/washingtons-war-yemen-backfires

    So it sounds like it is no longer in question whether the new president’s partnership will be similar to Saleh’s.

    And presumably, this opposition party could not or did not field a candidate for the presidential election.

    But US counterterrorism policy is extremely unpopular in Yemen. Whether a new government would continue the same type of counterterrorism relationship Saleh had with Washington is very much in question. In a series of interviews, Mohammed Qahtan and other leaders of the main opposition group, the Islah Party, sharply criticized US airstrikes in Yemen and the targeted killing of terrorism suspects, saying that they should have been put on trial in Yemen. Qahtan, the leader of Islah’s Muslim Brotherhood faction, charged that under Saleh, “The Yemeni government behaved in the war on terror as a contractor for the US,” adding that if Islah and its allies take control of the country, “we will not be contractors for the US, implementing what they want according to the money we receive. Our slogan is, ‘We are partners, not contractors.’”

    And then there are the Saudis and the GCC and their concerns about the Arab Spring.

  10. emptywheel says:

    @joanneleon: The AP got targeted bc 1) the Admin had plans to release it, but apparently didn’t ask their Saudi overlords, so when the AP revealed the Admin had been planning on releasing it, the Admin not only had to lie, but also scapegoat the AP to placate the Saudi overlords, and 2) bc the first person to call for a witchhunt was Peter King, who was doing so bc the same two AP journalists are the ones who have caused his overlord, Ray Kelly, so much grief, and this–unlike their Pulitzer winning reporting on the NYPD–will give cause to first subpoena them and then jail them, a la Risen.

  11. Ford Prefect says:

    @emptywheel: As a means of blackmailing the WH during an election year, yes, a decent starting point. Given the hurried nature of these actions in Yemen, I’m guessing there’s more to it than that, though. And given the nature of the EO, I’d still maintain this is really directed at domestic outlets, for domestic purposes. US outlets don’t have any influence in Yemen, a seriously locked down nation.

    But they do have influence in the US. So the administration seems to be more worried about it’s own derrière domestically than about “instability” in a country we are now bombing the crap out of.

  12. earlofhuntingdon says:

    Mr. Obama has several defining characteristics. His primary one is to protect, empower and enrich the most powerful forces within his horizon. He uses his rhetorical skills to suggest that in doing so, he is really protecting the little guy with the vote, not the fat guy with the fatter wallet. His actions make that claim a lie.

    Another defining characteristic is to institutionalize the ad hoc assertions of power by those who already have much of it. In running for office, he claimed to be against most of BushCheney’s political and legal excesses. In office, he has adopted and extended most of them, while claiming enhanced legal justifications for them.

    Mr. Obama has now added to his domestic powers by claiming the legal right to protect foreign states as if they were as important as the United States. In a way, that’s merely borrowing from our policies vis a vis Israel. In this case, he is protecting Yemen. More accurately, he is protecting American secret operations within Yemen and its region.

    He is protecting something all right, but it does not appear to be the rights, livelihoods or safety of citizens of the United States. In employment terms, that ought to lead to his sanction and dismissal. Instead, he’s looking forward to a four-year extension on his contract, and the right to retain mastery over the physical and digital record of his governance until peace breaks out across the planet.

    In addition to protecting US secret ops in the Middle East and worldwide, this EO is an anticipatory shot across the bow to all critics of this and future presidents’ actions, foreign and domestic. While that extends Mr. Obama’s previous horizon, in breathtaking fashion, the ambition is one he’s been working on for two decades.

  13. matt carmody says:

    @Jim White: Whether a Republican gets in now or later, or if Obama gets a second term or not, makes no difference. Obama is as big a war criminal as Bubba was, as Dubya was. Bush Four will be no different than Bush Three has been.

  14. tjallen says:

    Hooray a judge knocked this down!
    http://hosted.ap.org/dynamic/stories/U/US_HOMELAND_BATTLEFIELD_ACT_LAWSUIT?SITE=AP&SECTION=HOME&TEMPLATE=DEFAULT&CTIME=2012-05-16-19-31-39

    or

    http://www.nytimes.com/reuters/2012/05/16/us/16reuters-usa-security-lawsuit.html

    quote: “A judge on Wednesday struck down a portion of a law giving the government wide powers to regulate the detention, interrogation and prosecution of suspected terrorists, saying it left journalists, scholars and political activists facing the prospect of indefinite detention for exercising First Amendment rights.”

  15. emptywheel says:

    @Ford Prefect: No, I don’t think the dollar peg has anything to do with the election. It has to do with a pretty dramatic decline in lifestyle for average Americans if Saudis set off what could become an avalanche against the dollar rather quickly. And so the Admin has to do whatever it takes to keep the Saudis happen, even going to war to prop up a dictator’s VP.

  16. Roman Berry says:

    @Jim White: I think it’s possible Romney may surprise you. I’m beginning to think that between Obama and Romney, it’s possible that the “liberal” President Obama is the extremist.

    Forget what they say. Watch what they do, and have done.

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