Report from Yemen: The innocent victims of the Obama drone wars
During our visit to Yemen, three of us from the Codepink delegation flew to the southern coast, where many of the 138-231 U.S. drone and other covert attacks have hit since 2002. The families we wanted to interview live in the neighboring governorate of Abyan, a “gathering point” for elements from Al Qaeda and other religious extremists. In a famous “hadith” [saying], Prophet Muhammad said, "An army of 12,000 will come out of Aden-Abyan. They will give victory to Allah and His messenger; they are the best between myself and them." Reportedly, it is this “army” from Abyan who will eventually free Jerusalem.
Ahmed Abdullah Awadh with a picture of his injured son, Majed. (Photo: Pam Bailey)
Most of our advisors warned us it was not safe for foreigners to venture into Abyan at this time, so we heeded their guidance and we made our headquarters in Aden, whose port lies in the crater of a dormant volcano. The families traveled to us, eager for any chance to tell their stories to a world they feel has abandoned them (both the central government to the north that is supposed to represent them and the countries that target them for their own aims – primarily the United States).
The tales we heard were heartbreaking. They also illustrate that the “truth” is not always black and white, and right vs. wrong can’t be easily summed up in a soundbite.
Consider the story told by Ahmed Abdullah Awadh:
It was 9 in the morning on Tuesday, May 15, 2012. Ahmed was at home with his 25-year-old son, Majed, in the small village of Ja’ar. Suddenly, they heard a loud explosion. The house of his neighbor, a man Ahmed described as a “nice, ordinary taxi driver,” was hit. Everyone in the largely residential neighborhood, including Ahmed and Majed, ran to see what happened and help rescue anyone who was hurt.
The 33-year-old taxi driver was dead; fortunately, the rest of his family had not been at home. Fifteen minutes later, as neighbors were still sorting through the rubble, there was a second strike in the same spot. This time, with almost the entire neighborhood concentrated in one location, the entire block was reduced to rubble, about 20 residents were injured and another 14-26 died – including his son, Majed. According to The Bureau of Investigative Journalism, 99-285 Yemeni civilians have been killed by covert U.S. military actions, including as many as 69 in 2013 alone.
Specifics are hard to come by when seeking the truth about covert attacks conducted by the United States, the Yemini military or – as is often the case – a collaboration of the two. Who did it, using what kind of weaponry, how many were killed and whether or not they were involved in militant groups are frequently subjects of speculation. Secrecy is the name of the game, and no one warns the families who live in targeted towns or offers explanations afterwards.
Likewise, there are no official local or international agencies that keep records. The only current central source of this information is the website of The Bureau for Investigative Journalism, which logs each report of a confirmed or possible U.S. drone strike or other covert attack and includes links to often conflicting media coverage. In the May 15 attack on Ja’ar, the strike could have come from a jet fighter, based on the varying descriptions of what the villagers saw and heard, or from a drone, as suggested by the types of injuries. Which of the two countries actually dropped the missiles is uncertain as well, but it is generally accepted that if it was the Yemeni government, the United States was “in the know” or actively complicit.
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