Fallout From Wedding Party Drone Strike in Yemen Continues

As more details emerge on the drone strike Thursday in Yemen that hit a wedding party, it is becoming clear that the New York Times got it wrong, and those killed were mostly civilians rather than mostly suspected al Qaeda militants. A follow-up story in the Los Angeles Times on Friday put the death toll at 17, with only five of the dead having suspected al Qaeda connections. But CNN’s follow-up on Friday is even worse: they put the death toll at only 14, but they carried this statement from a Yemeni official:

“This was a tragic mistake and comes at a very critical time. None of the killed was a wanted suspect by the Yemeni government,” said a top Yemeni national security official who asked not to be named because he is not authorized to talk to media.

If we read between the lines, then, it would seem that although a few of those killed may have had al Qaeda connections, they were not of sufficiently high profile to merit being wanted by Yemen’s government.

The CNN story only gets worse:

The convoy consisted of 11 vehicles, and the officials said that four of the vehicles were targeted in the strikes. Two of the vehicles were completely damaged. Among the killed were two prominent tribal leaders within the province.

This piece of information alone seems to embody all of the moral depravity of the US drone program as it now stands. Despite all the bleating about the effort put into assuring that only militants are targeted and that every effort is made to prevent civilian casualties, there simply is no justification for proceeding with an attack that intends to target fewer than half the vehicles in a large convoy. Such an attack is virtually guaranteed to kill more than just those targeted, and as discussed above, it seems very likely that even those targeted in this strike were low level operatives instead of high level al Qaeda leaders.

Sunday saw a strong response to the attacks by Yemen’s Parliament. They voted to end drone strikes in the country. From CNN:

Yemen’s parliament Sunday called for an end to drone strikes on its territory after a U.S. missile attack mistakenly struck a wedding convoy, killing more than a dozen people.

The nearly unanimous but non-binding vote was “a strong warning” to both the United States and the government of Yemeni President Abdo Rabbo Mansour Hadi, a Yemeni government official told CNN.

“The Yemeni public is angered by the drone strikes,” said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he’s not authorized to talk to reporters. “The people’s representatives reflected on the tone of the streets.”

The official statement carried in the Reuters story on the vote strikes a similar position to what we have been hearing from Pakistan regarding US drone strikes there:

“Members of parliament voted to stop what drones are doing in Yemeni airspace, stressing the importance of preserving innocent civilian lives against any attack and maintaining Yemeni sovereignty,” the state news agency SABA said.

There’s that pesky issue of sovereignty again. Recall that it is a huge driver for the demonstrations by Imran Khan’s PTI party that have shut down NATO convoys on Pakistan’s northern supply route. And Khan appears to be gearing up for his protests to stage major events in Lahore and even Islamabad next week.

Writing in The Atlantic this morning, Conor Friedersdorf poses some interesting questions regarding the strike:

On my wedding day, my wife and I hired a couple of shuttle vans to ferry guests between a San Clemente hotel and the nearby site where we held our ceremony and reception. I thought of our friends and family members packed into those vehicles when I read about the latest nightmarish consequence of America’s drone war: “A U.S. drone mistakenly targeted a wedding convoy in Yemen’s al-Baitha province after intelligence reports identified the vehicles as carrying al Qaeda militants,” CNN reported, citing government sources in Yemen. “The officials said that 14 people were killed and 22 others injured, nine in critical condition. The vehicles were traveling near the town of Radda when they were attacked.”

Can you imagine the wall-to-wall press coverage, the outrage, and the empathy for the victims that would follow if an American wedding were attacked in this fashion? Or how you’d feel about a foreign power that attacked your wedding in this fashion?

The vote in Parliament wasn’t the only fallout from the drone strike. Pakistan Today has more of what happened in response:

Relatives of the dead staged protests to denounce the killings and demanded an official apology as well as compensation. Hundreds of people also blocked the road between Rada and Sanaa at Friday s funeral of 13 people but reopened a day later after reaching agreement on compensation with local military authorities. “If the government fails to stop American planes from… bombing the people of Yemen, then it has no rule over us,” tribal chief Ahmad al-Salmani told AFP on Saturday.

The Pakistan Today article goes on to say that two of those killed were previously on the list of wanted al Qaeda suspects (when coupled with the observation above, does this mean they had been on the list previously but weren’t when they were actually hit?), but most of those killed came from prominent families:

Two of the dead whose names were released — Saleh al-Tays and Abdullah al-Tays — had figured in the past on Yemeni government lists of wanted Al-Qaeda suspects. But most of those killed were civilians of the Al-Tays and Al-Ameri – which are part of the large and heavily armed Qayfah tribe.

So the US has killed a large number of innocent people from a large and heavily armed tribe. What could go wrong with that? The CNN article on Yemen’s Parliament vote gives us a preview:

But the U.S.-based Human Rights Watch reported in October that at least 57 civilians had also been killed by missiles fired from the unmanned aircraft. And some Yemeni security experts argue that drone strikes have aided al Qaeda by turning peaceful tribal communities into vengeful killers.

That’s the ticket! Let’s turn a large and heavily armed tribe into vengeful killers working with al Qaeda. Then we’ll need even more drone strikes and then…

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.
7 replies
  1. DWBartoo says:

    ” … the moral depravity of the US drone program …”

    Well ,Jim, now you have gone and done it.

    Just precisely what, or which, moral principle does killing human beings with drones actually serve?

    When one tries to have this conversation the first response, often, is, “Well, it’s better than having troops on the ground”.

    What or which moral principle, of our foundational principles, assuming we might have some, does “having troops on the ground” actually serve?

    IT is an moral issue that we confront, with many other aspects or critical issues that, seemingly, have not been any better thought through, that what moral principle, or principles, if any, is or are actually involved in the use of drones to kill human beings, however that “program” may currently “stand” …. or conceivably be “changed”.

    Let no one forget, for even an instant, that these killings are done IN OUR name, yours and mine … that we WILL bear, and our children will bear the consequence of these actions … especially if “our” nation succeeds in making the use of these devices, “normal”, and acceptable international behavior.

    What, in heaven’s name, permits anyone in the US to imagine that we will not, someday, if drones become “legitimate”, as they ARE becoming readily “available” to the point of being ubiquitous, BECOME the TARGETS of drones ourselves?

    Conor Friedersdorf is very wise to suggest that we consider how we might feel if we were the “object”, mistaken or not, of someone’s “concern” that we might “mean them some distant future harm”.

    What do we really consider human life, or life, generally, to be worth?

    We teeter on the edge of our own self-extinction, as a species, yet permit mindless mayhem and war-profit to chain everyone’s future to the very meanest of foul suspicion where anyone’s life may be snuffed out at the whim of some “policy” and a few very well-protected individual “leaders” who do not demonstrate even the most basic grasp of what they are about when they order the killing of “specified” others, in fact, some even brag that they are “good” at killing while claiming that they are motivated by “kindness” in all of their actions while never once admitting of ANY moral sensibility or responsibility but “pragmatic efficiency” …

    Perhaps, they are on to the final solution?

    And yes, if perpetual war is your “game”, for the confusion, domestic as well as foreign, that it permits to be profitably exploited … even into tyrannies of “austerity”, and unassailable neofeudal hegemony, then it makes perfect sense to continually create many others who hate “us”.


  2. lefty665 says:

    “We are creating enemies faster than we are killing them” was bumper sticker fodder in 2003. A decade later it is still true.

    Can anyone rewind this whole misbegotten, murderous era to 1999? Then we could naively frolic in Y2K hysteria again and do over the new millennium with decency.

    Is it too much to ask our President to take a moment from making sanctimonious comments about Newtown and gun control to stop personally ordering the killing of innocents?

    How many innocents would Adam Lanza have had to kill to get a Nobel prize? How many multiples of that toll (Lanzas) will our President have to order to be identified as a mass murderer?

    Welch said to McCarthy, “Have you no sense of decency. sir? At long last, have you left no sense of decency?”

    Who dares ask that question today?

  3. Don Bacon says:

    US policy is to prolong its War On Terror by continuing to create instability in the Middle East, primarily on the borders of US ally Saudi Arabia (Iraq, Yemen, and nearby Syria). This ensures a steady supply of “terrorists.” The US also works with Saudi Arabia promoting the WOT, as in Syria and Iraq.

    So I think it’s helpful to consider all the recent and current US aggression in the Middle East in the context of the US-Saudi alliance. Then it all fits in place — the first Gulf war, the Iraq invasion/occupation, support of Islamists in Syria (and its ‘gas attack’), also the US current rapprochement with Egypt’s new dictator, etc.

    Specifically Saudi Arabia seeks a weak Yemen. KSA is currently evicting 200,000 Yemeni laborers which will deprive Yemen of their remittances and probably help to destabilize Yemen. US assassinations help in that regard, as they have in Pakistan.

    (As a sidelight is the current news on confirmation of the Saudi connection to 9/11.)

  4. GKJames says:

    Sounds like it’s time again for an article in the WP or NYT lauding the deep morality of Brennan et al and their most profound sorrow at civilian casualties. Presumably, that article won’t be highlighting how and why the dead showed up in our crosshairs in the first place.

  5. Tom in AZ says:

    @Don Bacon: Our water-carrying for the KSA and Israel has become almost a sort of foreign policy mental illness. It is not just the Yemenis that are being thrown out, if I recall my reading recently. All those welfare ‘princes’ having to wash their own butts when the foreigners are gone will be a whole new problem for the old guard.

  6. Don Bacon says:

    I don’t get blaming anybody but Obama. One of his first actions in office was n Executive Order prohibiting the CIA from detaining and torturing, followed by a more informal order to assassinate people, starting in Pakistan.

    So why dump on Brennan? If it weren’t him it would be another yes-man.

  7. GKJames says:

    @Don Bacon: No question as to ultimate responsibility. But Brennan routinely has put himself out front as the face of the Administration’s humanity in what he and his cohort describe as war that’s been foisted on us by evil people. It’s hard to find a reference to Brennan without the accompanying praise of his role as the moral force [sic] underpinning what the Administration is doing.

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