Is Ambassador Feierstein Drawing Up the Kill Lists in Yemen?

The question of why John Brennan seized control of drone targeting continues to gnaw on me. Which is why I find this attack piece on the US Ambassador to Yemen, Gerald Feierstein, to be so interesting.

You’ll recall that one effect of the Brennan power grab was to have State consult directly with Brennan about who should be on the kill list, rather than have State work through DOD’s teleconferences.

The process, which is about a month old, means Brennan’s staff consults the Pentagon, the State Department and other agencies as to who should go on the list, making a previous military-run review process in place since 2009 less relevant, according to two current and three former U.S. officials aware of the evolution in how the government targets terrorists.


Under the old Pentagon-run review, the first step was to gather evidence on a potential target. That person’s case would be discussed over an interagency secure video teleconference, involving the National Counterterrorism Center and the State Department, among other agencies.

The article on Feierstein describes him being so central to decisions about how the country will be governed, Yemen has become a trusteeship.

The extent of American meddling was further highlighted by the publication on local and foreign websites of leaked letters from the US ambassador to Yemeni Interior Minister Abdul Qadir Qahtan, instructing him to make certain security personnel changes, which he described as necessary to helping bring civil peace to the country. This leaves no room for doubt that Feierstein has assumed a de facto governing role in Yemen, pushing for progress but only in the manner that he deems appropriate, and which does not, of course, conflict with broader US policy in Yemen.


Analyst Qaderi Ahmad Haidar says the country has indeed fallen under effective US trusteeship, and blames the Gulf Initiative and the mechanisms that were agreed to implement it. “It is a deplorable and lamentable picture we see today,” he told Al-Akhbar. “We didn’t expect the pure revolution of the Yemeni youth to end in this.”

The US ambassador’s pronouncements are incessant, and oblivious to the basic diplomatic norms that govern relations between two states. He is constantly making media appearances to discuss, explain and clarify aspects of Yemen’s daily affairs, as though he were the country’s undeclared president.

During the course of one recent appearance he said: “We are now in the second phase of the Gulf Initiative… I met with the president yesterday… We believe everyone should take part in the National Dialogue… President Obama has issued an executive order which enables us to punish individuals or groups who obstruct the implementation of the agreement (the Gulf Initiative)… We are working to restructure the army and security forces… We are pleased with what has been achieved so far… We are on the right track.” The ambassador’s use of the first person when discussing Yemeni affairs strikes Muhammad Ayesh, editor of the independent newspaper al-Awwali, as telling. It serves to cast him not just as Yemen’s “governor,” but as a leader propelled by a transformative revolution into the country’s top position.

At least from several Yemeni perspectives, Feierstein is the one making all the decisions for the Yemenis. (He’s also reportedly pushing the Pentagon to sell armored vehicles to the Yemenis.) Couple that with the reports of Hillary’s centralization of CT funding under State.

In Yemen, in particular, some commando officers look upon the State Department’s expanding shadow-war powers as a bureaucratic intrusion on what should be military territory. A source tells Danger Room that in Yemen State has effectively hijacked all U.S. counter-terrorism funding, requiring a labyrinthine approval process for even small expenditures.

It’s clear State–whether Feierstein or Hillary or both–are driving a lot of what is happening in Yemen.

I’m just wondering whether that explains why NSC seized control of our drone war in April, to put it squarely in the hands of our “diplomats?”

10 replies
  1. Arbusto says:

    Obama has issued an executive order which enables us to punish individuals or groups who obstruct the implementation of the agreement

    Doesn’t this motherfucker or Obama LLC know any bounds? Curious what the Saudi think of our back dooring them? Plus USAID (ha) increase of $52,000,000. Good thing we don’t care what is costs to kill a single combatant/passerby in our war on Islam.

  2. emptywheel says:

    @Arbusto: He has done the same in Burma.

    At one level, I get the point–it’s meant to be a sign that we’re going to back Hadi. BUt at another level, it permits a great deal of arbitrary decision making by Treasury, and also allows us–the govt–to continue to fund whoever we want.

    In short, I think it’s just another example of Obama’s attempt to use sanctions out of a need to do something and a belief in his own power, but without an awareness of the way in which by interfering you may be causing more problems.

    Call it the wonk’s disease.

  3. What Constitution says:

    Is this about lithium deposits? On a “follow the money” basis, what the hell are we doing in Yemen? I don’t think I’ve ever seen an effort to rationalize our actually putting ourselves in operational control there — is this just about dominoes, is there a resource we’re looking for, does it deflect attention from Iraq, is it “America’s Burden,” or is it just “because we can”?

  4. emptywheel says:

    @GKJames: Yeah, I’ve said that a bunch of times. It’s one thing to admit that signature strikes in Pakistan hurt more than they help, as Obama has largely done. It’s another for the Saudis to perceive threats on their border.

  5. ondelette says:

    That’s great. You delete my serious comment and leave the two in which I’m complaining about your moderation habits as ‘in moderation’. Your “community member” ‘What Constitution’ is an idiot. Either you can tell him/her or I can, but not speaking the truth is an abomination.

    The US isn’t in Yemen for lithium or any other kind of deposits, you know it and I know it. And if you don’t start telling your readers about Abyan, then you are disingenuous of the deepest sort. Because the Yemenis in the tent city in Sanaa don’t support Ansar al Sharia and their fight in Abyan, and you know it. And a lot of people are dying, and not at all from drones. Even CSSW is being impeded by the fighters. Weren’t they declared a terrorist group by the USG? They’re working with OCHA and the other humanitarian groups to provide medical relief. Things are really bad. But you don’t care about the Yemenis, do you? Not really. You care about your debating points against the USG and your pet theories.

    Keep deleting my serious comments. If you can’t admit that you’ve never told your readers about the realities of how most of the people die in the wars in Yemen, it really isn’t a problem with my caustic mouth. It’s a problem with your flat affect and inhuman blinders.

  6. emptywheel says:

    @ondelette: Ondelette,

    I’m following a few rules on whether I delete your comments, which tend to be about 60-80% worthwhile and the rest counterproductive, usually deliberately so.

    1) if you make insulting claims about what someone knows or doesn’t know or is or isn’t (as you did in your original comment on this topic), I delete it.

    2) if you make false claims about what the post says or what I purportedly have never covered, I delete it.

    3) If you start a post with “dipshit” or include other obvious insults, I delete it.

    If your knowledge about IHL and humanitarian crises is so superlative, then presumably you don’t need to include insults every time you make a point; your expertise should speak for itself.

    Also I agree that most deaths in Yemen are not primarily from drones. It’s implicit here. But if drones make it more difficult for all entities–the legitimate govt, humanitarian groups, and terrorists–from addressing those issues (and people on the ground say they do) then they are part–just one part but nevertheless a part–of the problem. Though, as people on the ground report, BOTH terrorists AND official govt forces are preventing aide workers from being able to help.

    I also agree, this is not about lithium (and no one here, AFAIK, ever said it was about oil or money but that’s another of your baseless attacks).

    Anyway, I do hope I won’t have to explain very obvious rules about what turns an otherwise worthwhile comment into something counterproductive, because a chunk of most of your comments is productive.

    If you didn’t have a very long and well-established history of making attacks that made otherwise reasonable comments destructive, it would be different. But your disruptions have made this necessary.

  7. What Constitution? says:

    Hey, thanks for that, Ondelette. You’re a real prince, for sure.
    “Lithium” was a snark reference to the ludicrous “shiny object” deflection some US folks pulled out of their asses a while back in suggesting there was some economic reason for us being in Afghanistan, but you must have missed it at the time. No, I don’t think we’re looking for lithium in Yemen. (Apparently I didn’t see how you first articulated your “idiot” assessment, since the moderator nicked it which is the moderator’s right).

    Beyond that, sorry not everyone puts your stuff on pedestals. Over time, I’ve noticed that you sometimes have valuable things to say, other times maybe not so much. Me, too, I would venture to guess. On the other hand, my question stands: what is the reason the US is seeking to exercise operational control over Yemen?

  8. ondelette says:

    @What Constitution?: Don’t mention it. You can deride me all you like, and that’s within this blog’s rules, it’s just me who can’t do that to you. You are doing it with both the help and support of the blog owner, who gave you ammunition to do it with, having told you what was in a deleted comment that was written knowing it was going to be deleted, and convolved it with a comment that was written hoping it was not, but not shown you the actual comments, sorta like military commission trials where the defendant is not allowed to face the accuser. You know, the whole star chamber kinda thing that comes from the absolute power corrupted absolutely. Marcy Wheeler is kind of a fraud when it comes to full disclosure on these things. Criticism isn’t something she can actually take. She can go on the air and talk about blow jobs, but if you criticize her, she goes ballistic and starts deleting. It’s one of those massive ego kinda things.

  9. ondelette says:

    It might be pointed out that for most people that have any slight amount of creativity left in them after schooling, disciplining into this rigid, computer-puritanical, post-crusade society, it isn’t possible to always self-censor down to the completely polite little let’s-see-if-we-can-please-Marcy-and-ornery-bmaz-today nice comments all the time.

    Particularly because many opinions aren’t very mainstream to this blog.

    Let’s take the notion predicated here that one should apply the 5th amendment to war. One shouldn’t be applying it to human rights violations even — if you do you end up quoting Johns Yoo and Bolton. Where it applies — due process — in war is to detainees who are charged with crimes. Then it fits nicely with the fundamental guarantees, and is usually called either Article 3 where it says that one must be first brought before a regularly constituted court or Article 75, which lays out those guarantees. But arguing that military objectives be first pursued in court to the military will get you nowhere. I’ve tried to say that a few times.

    If I say that, I will get called a troll. That’s very rude, but you won’t call the regular who calls me a troll rude. You won’t call the people who otherwise pile on rude either. I’ve learned that the hard way over years not just in your little ingrown community but in many. But if I answer back in kind — guess who gets banned?

    Likewise if I speak in stream of consciousness and use the wrong words doing so, guess who gets banned? To hell with the vast and long tradition of people who’ve made this the language of prose, poetry, and protest, and all of those of us who studied it however imperfectly at their feet.

    Likewise, if I speak without credentials on subjects for which I can contest you, because those credentials would identify me, and state flatly that you are wrong about something, guess who gets banned? I may know you are wrong, but all I can do is say so. It isn’t that comfortable to be in such a position, but what? I should remain silent and let the wrong persist?

    Likewise, having been around when the plans for private enterprise to datamine consumers to death were being drawn up a decade ago in meeting rooms literally all over the planet and having futilely argued for privacy and begged for laws to be obeyed and argued for lawyers to get involved, to get deleted by a lawyer for saying so now, is that me or is that the lawyer hiding the role of the oh so absent legal community?

    So your argument that I skip all the things you don’t like and only write the productive stuff is very strange. It sounds just like the censors in any totalitarian state speaking to a dissident, and you would see it that way if you stood back and looked at it from a distance. I write what I feel like all your other commenters.

    What I feel when you butcher a piece on Yemen and act like the main thing going on there is the US ambassador running the place like a viceroy and calling out drone attacks that kill untold numbers of civilian al Qaeda operatives in a brutal domination of the country from the air, is that 44% of the country is unable to eat properly and a million of its children are starving to death, and al Qaeda is a major reason for that along with the other armed factions, and you forgot to mention that part. So that’s what I’m going to say: That you have forgotten to mention it so many times I’ve decided you don’t care if a million civilians die as long as 30 or 40 of the combatants are
    saved from being targeted until they get a trial first.

    And it isn’t that I don’t think that the IHL of drones isn’t an important issue that needs to be discussed. It does and I do discuss it. It’s that you’ve lost track of the humanity of what’s happening in Yemen.

    And if you can’t handle having it put that way, it isn’t a matter of my being rude. It’s a matter of you not being able to accept dissent.

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