Wednesday, 26 November 2014 / TRUTH-OUT.ORG

Jeremy Scahill Recounts How the US Dirty Wars Killed Women and Children in a Yemeni Village

Friday, 24 May 2013 00:00 By Jeremy Scahill, Nation Books | Book Excerpt

Jeremy Scahill.Jeremy Scahill exposes America's "Dirty Wars." (Photo: dirtywars.org)In his New York Times best selling Dirty Wars: The World Is a Battlefield, investigative reporter Jeremy Scahill offers a riveting follow-up to his 2007 Blackwater: The Rise of the World's Most Powerful Mercenary Army. Only now, in the Obama administration, the CIA has assumed the role – working with the Pentagon at times – of carrying out extra judicial killings through drone strikes, missile attacks coordinated with the military, and special unit assaults, among other strategies.

What were formerly actions too illicit and morally disturbing to be carried out by US intelligence agencies and the armed forces are now incorporated, as Scahill recounts in this exhaustively researched book (with nearly 100 pages of footnotes), within the CIA and the Pentagon through a joint oversight committee known as the JSOC.

At a time when the Obama administration is trying to intimidate journalists to keep them form revealing unfavorable information about the administration's national security actions (including the infamous presidential assassination list), Scahill has written a book that draws on a plethora of sources who provided him with details of the dirty wars that began with Cheney and Rumsfeld, but have expanded under the Obama administration.

Scahill's "Dirty Wars" is written in the illustrious tradition of Seymour Hersh who exposed the My Lai massacre and is a long-time investigative journalist for The New Yorker. "Dirty Wars" can also be seen as a documentary film when it is released in June.

You can read the 600-page "Dirty Wars" and support Truthout by ordering it here for a minimum contribution of $40.

The following excerpt is from Chapter 32 of "Dirty Wars."

"If They Kill Innocent Children and Call Them al Qaeda, Then We Are All al Qaeda"

Washington, DC, and Yemen, 2009 — On December 16, 2009, top US national security officials were given a file of "baseball cards" containing the bios of three alleged AQAP members whom Admiral McRaven wanted taken out by JSOC in a proposed "series of targeted killings" inside Yemen. Their code names were Objectives Akron, Toledo and Cleveland. JSOC wanted to move on the targets in less than twenty-four hours and needed an answer from the lawyers: yes or no. The officials who made up the killing committee had little time to review the intelligence. Both Harold Koh, the State Department's legal adviser, and his counterpart at the Pentagon, Jeh Johnson, reportedly had just forty-five minutes from the time they received the files until the JSOC-led teleconference that would decide if the missions were a go. This meeting was larger than most targeting meetings, involving some seventy-five officials. The Obama administration was about to start bombing Yemen, and the national security establishment was mobilized.

Admiral McRaven was beamed into the meeting via teleconference and, with the cold and direct tone he was famous for, laid out the military case for "kinetic action" against the "targets." The main target, "Akron," was Mohammed Saleh Mohammed Ali al Kazemi, whom the United States had identified as an AQAP deputy in Yemen's Abyan Province. JSOC had been hunting Kazemi and McRaven's men had "tracked him to a training camp near the village of al-Majalah." Kazemi had evaded JSOC for months. Now, McRaven said, the US intelligence had a dead lock on his position. After ruling out a capture operation and weighing other military options, the team decided on a JSOC-led cruise missile attack on the camp.

Johnson felt "heavy pressure exerted by the military to kill" and believed he had been "rushed and unprepared" to weigh all of the options. Still, he gave his thumbs up. A short time later, Johnson watched the satellite imagery of al Majalah from a command center in the Pentagon. Figures that appeared to be the size of ants moved around. And then with a massive flash they were vaporized. The feed Johnson watched was referred to internally at JSOC as "Kill TV." Now Johnson knew why.

On the morning of December 17, Sheikh Saleh bin Fareed's BlackBerry started ringing. Tribesmen from his Aulaq tribe told him there had been a horrible incident in a tiny Bedouin village in Abyan Province called al Ma- jalah. Early that morning, missiles had rained down on the modest dwellings of a dozen families that lived in the remote, barren, mountainous village. Dozens of people had been killed, the callers told bin Fareed, many of them women and children. Bin Fareed turned on Al Jazeera just as the news was breaking. The announcer read a press release from the Yemeni government, which said that Yemeni warplanes had conducted an attack against an al Qaeda training camp, dealing a devastating blow to the militants. Bin Fareed called his chief bodyguard and his driver and ordered them to get his SUV prepared for the half-day's drive from Aden to al Majalah.

Bin Fareed is one of the most powerful men in southern Yemen. His family's lineage traces back to the sultans who once ruled the Arabian Peninsula. After British colonialists arrived in southern Yemen in 1839, the Aulaq tribe became one of their most prized tribal allies. From 1937 to 1963, the southern Yemeni city of Aden existed as a Crown colony, with remote areas governed through a series of treaties with tribes. Bin Fareed, whose father was a sultan, was educated in British schools and grew up as royalty. In 1960, he went to the United Kingdom for college and military schooling and then returned to Yemen, where he joined the army. In 1967, Marxists took control of southern Yemen and the British withdrew. Bin Fareed and his family fled Yemen, believing they would return in a few months. It would be nearly a quarter century.

Eventually, bin Fareed came to terms with the fact that he would live in exile. He worked much of his young adult life building up businesses elsewhere in the Gulf, and he spent extensive time at his family's estate in the south of England. As the years passed, he became a major transportation and construction contractor in the Gulf. By 1990, bin Fareed was an extremely wealthy man. That year President Saleh unified North and South Yemen and he called bin Fareed. Saleh needed the tribes to help him consolidate his control over the south of the country, so he cut a deal with the tribal sheikhs to return. In 1991, bin Fareed was back in Yemen.

By the time al Qaeda began to formally organize an affiliate in Yemen in 2009, bin Fareed had once again become a powerful figure in the country. He was a member of parliament, leader of a huge tribe and was building a massive private resort right on the Gulf of Aden. He knew there were a handful of people who had ties to al Qaeda, including members of his own tribe, but he primarily saw them as tribesmen and was not particularly troubled by the jihadis, as Yemen was full of veterans of the mujahedeen war in Afghanistan and elsewhere. What's more, those men were widely considered to be national heroes. Bin Fareed remembered when Fahd al Quso was arrested for his role in the Cole bombing. Quso's job was to film the bombing, but he had overslept. When the government took Quso into custody as a conspirator in the plot, bin Fareed was called in to mediate, as Quso was a member of the Aulaq tribe. "That's the first time I heard that any Awlaki belongs to al Qaeda," he said. "And it was just limited to him, and I think, one or two others."

Now, nine years later, bin Fareed watched as news reports alleged that an al Qaeda stronghold was right in the middle of his tribal areas. The reports said "that our government attacked al Qaeda in al Majalah where al Qaeda has a base, and a field for training. And they have huge stores for all kinds of weapons and ammunition, and rockets, all this. And it was a successful attack," bin Fareed recalled. "And they did not mention the Americans at all." Bin Fareed found it impossible to believe that there was an al Qaeda base in al Majalah. Even if there were al Qaeda members there, he thought, the government could easily have sent in a ground force to root them out. The reports he was getting about air strikes made no sense to him. It was a remote area, but it wasn't Tora Bora.

As soon as bin Fareed arrived in al Majalah, he was horrified. "When we went there, we could not believe our eyes. I mean, if somebody had a weak heart, I think he would collapse. You see goats and sheep all over, you see the heads of those who were killed here and there. You see their bodies, you see children. I mean some of them, they were not hit immediately, but by the fire, they were burned," he told me. Body parts were strewn around the village. "You could not tell if this meat belongs to animals or to human beings," he remembered. They tried to gather what body parts they could to bury the dead. "Some of the meat we could not reach, even. It was eaten by the birds." As bin Fareed surveyed the carnage, most of the victims he saw were women and children. "They were all children, old women, all kinds of sheep and goats and cows. Unbelievable." He examined the site and found no evidence that there was anything even vaguely resembling a training camp. "Why did they do this? Why in the hell are they doing this?" he asked. "There are no [weapons] stores, there is no field for training. There is nobody, except a very poor tribe, one of the poorest tribes in the south."

I later met with several survivors of the attack, in Abyan, including a local tribal leader named Muqbal, spared because he had gone out to run errands in a nearby village. "People saw the smoke and felt the earth shake—they had never seen anything like it. Most of the dead were women, children and the elderly. Five pregnant women were killed," he told me. After the missiles hit, "I ran to the area. I found scattered bodies and injured women and children." A woman who survived the strike sobbed as she recalled for me what happened. "At 6:00 a.m. [my family members] were sleeping and I was making bread. When the missiles exploded, I lost consciousness. I didn't know what had happened to my children, my daughter, my husband. Only I survived with this old man and my daughter. They died. They all died." In all, more than forty people were killed at al Majalah, including fourteen women and twenty-one children.

Muqbal, who adopted an orphaned child, was incredulous at the allegation that his village was an al Qaeda base. "If they kill innocent children and call them al Qaeda, then we are all al Qaeda," he told me. "If children are terrorists, then we are all terrorists."

As bin Fareed examined the wreckage, he saw missile parts that appeared to be from Tomahawk cruise missiles. "Of course, our government does not have this kind of rockets. I mean, any ordinary man could tell that this belongs to a big nation, a big government," he told me. Then he found a missile part labeled: "Made in the United States." Al Majalah was also littered with cluster bombs. A few days after the strike, three more people were killed when one exploded.

Bin Fareed believed the Yemeni government was lying and that the Americans had bombed al Majalah and massacred dozens of innocent people. And he set out to prove it. As did a young Yemeni reporter.

Abdulelah Haider Shaye was a rare kind of journalist in a country with a media dominated by regime sycophants. "We were only exposed to Western media and Arab media funded by the West, which depicts only one image of al Qaeda," recalled his best friend, Kamal Sharaf, a well-known dissident Yemeni political cartoonist. "But Abdulelah brought a different viewpoint." Shaye had no reverence for al Qaeda, but he did view the group's ascent in Yemen as an important story, according to Sharaf. Shaye was able to get access to al Qaeda figures in part because of his relationship, through marriage, to the radical Islamic cleric Abdul Majeed al Zindani, the founder of Iman University and a US Treasury Department– designated terrorist.

Although Sharaf acknowledged that Shaye used his connections to gain access to al Qaeda, he added that Shaye also "boldly" criticized Zindani and his supporters: "He said the truth with no fear." Shaye had done in-depth profiles on Wuhayshi and Shihri, the leaders of AQAP, and had documented their bomb-making capabilities. In one story, Shaye nervously tried on a suicide vest that AQAP had made. He was the leading chronicler of the rise of the movement. His journalism was famous inside Yemen and across the world.

Shaye had long been known as a brave, independent-minded journalist in Yemen, and his collision course with the US government appeared to have been set when al Majalah was bombed. As the story spread across the world, Shaye traveled to the village. There he discovered the remnants of the Tomahawk cruise missiles and cluster bombs, neither of which were in the Yemeni military's arsenal. He photographed the missile parts, some of them bearing the label "Made in the United States," and distributed the photos to international media outlets and human rights organizations. He reported that the majority of the victims were women, children and the elderly. After conducting his own investigation, Shaye determined that it was a US strike, and he was all over the media telling anyone who would listen. The young journalist was becoming a thorn in America's side. But when he started interviewing Anwar Awlaki, he would become a target.

Bin Fareed and Shaye were right. Al Majalah was the opening salvo in America's newest war. Unlike the CIA's "covert action" programs, which require formal notification to the House and Senate intelligence committees, this operation was done under a military "Special Access Program," which gives the armed forces wide latitude to conduct lethal, secret operations with little, if any, oversight.

In Yemen, the operations were all being coordinated by US Special Operations Forces based at the US-Yemen joint operations center in Sana'a, with JSOC's intelligence division coordinating the intel, directing Yemeni forces in on-the-ground raids and providing coordinates for US missile strikes. Inside the facility, US and Ye- meni military and intelligence officials had access to real-time electronic and video surveillance, as well as three-dimensional terrain maps. The US personnel inside Yemen fed intel and operational details back to the NSA in Fort Meade, the Special Operations Command in Tampa and to other intelligence and military agencies.

This is how al Majalah went down. It was December 17 in Yemen. Soon after Obama's committee met in Washington and approved the operation to assassinate Kazemi and the other al Qaeda members on Admiral McRaven's kill list, JSOC launched surveillance aircraft to monitor the intended targets. The operation kicked off in the early morning hours, as Tomahawk cruise missiles were fired from a submarine positioned in the waters off Yemen's coast. It was armed with cluster munitions. The missiles slammed into a collection of dwellings in al Majalah. Meanwhile, another strike was launched in Arhab, a suburb of the capital, Sana'a, followed up by raids on suspected al Qaeda houses by Yemeni special ops troops from the US-trained CTU, backed by JSOC. Authorization for the US strikes was rushed through President Saleh's office because of "actionable" intelligence that al Qaeda suicide bombers were preparing for strikes in the Yemeni capital. The target in Arhab, according to intel reports, was an al Qaeda house believed to be housing a big fish: AQAP leader Qasim al Rimi. In Abyan, an anonymous US official told ABC News, "an imminent attack against a U.S. asset was being planned."

A military source familiar with the operation told me al Majalah was a "JSOC operation with borrowed Navy subs, borrowed Marine Corps, Air Force and Navy surveillance aircraft and close coordination with CIA and DIA on the ground in Yemen. Counting the crew of the sub we're talking 350–400 [people] in the loop."

When word of the strikes first broke, Saleh's government publicly took responsibility. Yemen's defense ministry said its forces had mounted "successful pre-emptive operations" against al Qaeda, saying they had killed thirty-four terrorists and arrested seventeen others. The Pentagon refused to comment, directing all inquiries to Yemen's government, which released a statement taking credit for the coordinated strikes, saying in a press release that its forces "carried out simultaneous raids killing and detaining militants." President Obama called Saleh to "congratulate" him and to "thank him for his cooperation and pledge continuing American support." Egyptian dictator Hosni Mubarak also phoned to express his satisfaction to Saleh.

But as images of the al Majalah strike emerged, some military analysts who reviewed the footage of the aftermath questioned whether Yemen had the type of weapons used in the Abyan hit. Al Jazeera broadcast video of artillery shells with visible serial numbers and speculated that the attack was done with a US cruise missile. Abdulelah Haider Shaye was interviewed on the network describing the dead civilians he had seen in al Majalah. Among the munitions found at the scene were BLU 97 A/B cluster bomblets, which explode into some two hundred sharp steel fragments that can spray more than four hundred feet away. In essence, they are flying land mines capable of shredding human bodies. The bomblets were also equipped with an incendiary material, burning zirconium, that set fire to flammable objects in the target area. The missile used in the attack, a BGM-109D Tomahawk, can carry more than 160 cluster bombs.

None of these munitions were in Yemen's arsenal. As news of the strike spread, Admiral Mike Mullen, the chair of the Joint Chiefs, sat aboard his military aircraft returning from a trip to Iraq and Afghanistan and praised what he characterized as Yemeni operations supported by the United States. "We've actually done quite a bit there. I think we're on a pretty good track," he said. Referring to the attacks, Mullen said, "I really do applaud what they did, who they went after and specifically going after the Al Qaeda cell which has grown significantly over the last couple of years there."

But the vast majority of the victims killed in the strike were not, in fact, al Qaeda terrorists. Many of the victims, according to a classified US diplomatic cable, were "largely nomadic, Bedouin families who lived in tents near the AQAP training camp." A senior Yemeni defense official described them as "poor people selling food and supplies to the terrorists, but were nonetheless acting in collusion with the terrorists and benefiting financially from AQAP's presence in the area." For al Qaeda, the takeaway was clear: the strikes were a US operation. AQAP could use the images of the aftermath, including those of dead and disfigured children, to rally Yemenis to their cause.

Saleh bin Fareed was livid as he watched the way the al Majalah bombing was covered in the international media. Virtually every West- ern news outlet that covered the story said that Yemen had targeted an al Qaeda training camp and that the strike had been a success. But bin Fareed had been there. He'd helped scrape the remains of poor Bedouin villagers off of trees. He had seen the bodies of dead children pulled from rubble. He had promised newly orphaned children that he would take care of them, and he had seen the markings on the missile parts that showed they came from the United States. He was determined to make sure that the world understood that the victims of the strike were not al Qaeda—and that America was responsible.

On December 20, bin Fareed organized a massive gathering of tribal lead- ers from across Yemen—nearly 150 of Yemen's most powerful sheikhs. It was no small feat. There were age-old disputes, current feuds and lethal hatred among some of the powerful tribesmen in attendance. But bin Fareed persuaded them all to pledge that they would put aside their differences for the task at hand. "We made an open invitation to many sheikhs from all tribes. They came from Marib, al Jawf. They came from the North, they came from the South," he recalled. "We drove all the way from everywhere to Majalah, just to prove, and show all media that what our government says is not true. The Majalah disaster was done by the Americans. And there was not al Qaeda whatsoever."

Bin Fareed's goal was to gather tens of thousands of Yemenis from across the country in al Majalah to show their solidarity with the victims of the missile strike. One of his estates was about one hundred miles from al Majalah, and he offered all of the visiting tribal leaders hospitality the night before, so that they could travel together as one unit to the demonstration the next day.

At about 9:30 at night, as the tribesmen finished up their dinner and discussion of the logistics for the following day, one of bin Fareed's guards approached him. He whispered to the sheikh that there were about a half dozen men who had pulled up to the compound. "They want to see you," the guard told bin Fareed, who waved for them to be allowed into the house.

"But they are heavily loaded with machine guns, with hand grenades, with rocket launchers," the guard told him. "Does not matter," bin Fareed replied. "We are equipped the same. They are not enemies."

The men entered the house. They were young and well dressed, clean-cut. They made small talk. Bin Fareed asked them their names. He knew their tribes, but not the individuals. He asked them what they did for a living. The men laughed and looked at each other. "We are unemployed," one said. Then he added, "They say we are al Qaeda." "Are you?" bin Fareed asked. The men eventually admitted they were. "There is not one single American, or one single Israeli, or one single Brit, here in Shabwah," bin Fareed admonished them. "You are making a lot of trouble for your people. You are giving a bad reputation, to us and to our tribe. If you want to fight the Israelis, then I will buy you some tickets and I will send you to Palestine."

Bin Fareed was losing his patience. "What can I do for you?" he asked. The men told him that they had heard about the gathering in al Majalah and asked bin Fareed if they could address the crowd. "If you are coming tomorrow, as ordinary tribesmen, you are welcome," bin Fareed told them, but not as al Qaeda representatives. "No," one of them responded. "We want to come and give a speech and talk about al Qaeda." Bin Fareed lost his temper. "This means that you are really idiots. Really idiots," he told the young men. "Our gathering is to prove to the whole world that there is no al Qaeda" in al Majalah and that "those people who were killed were innocent." If they came, he told them, the "media will say that all of us, we are al Qaeda." He warned them not to show up. "If you do come," he told them, "you shave my beard, if you survive three days." It was a grave warning. In Yemen, under tribal customs, to have one's beard shaved in public by another man is to be humiliated for life. Bin Fareed was telling the young al Qaeda men that he would have them killed if they stepped foot in al Majalah.

The next morning at 4:30, bin Fareed and the scores of tribal leaders he had gathered at his home caravanned to al Majalah. When they arrived, tens of thousands of Yemenis had already assembled. Tents had been set up and there were cars as far as the eye could see. "We estimate that day, that the gathering was between 50,000 and 70,000, some estimate it was more," bin Fareed said. As bin Fareed settled into one of the massive tents and began going over the program for the day, his guards burst in. They told him that the men from last night—the members of al Qaeda—were standing on a car, giving a speech through a megaphone. Bin Fareed grabbed his automatic weapon and darted out of the tent. His men held him back. "Either they will kill me or I will kill them," bin Fareed said. "I warned them." It was too late. The al Qaeda men had already achieved their goal.

As bin Fareed was grabbing his machine gun, one of the al Qaeda men, Muhammad al Kilwi, was standing on a car speaking to a crowd on the periphery of the demonstration. With a henna-dyed beard and a military jacket, he declared, "Al Qaeda's war in Yemen is against the United States, not against the Yemeni military." Standing aside the other al Qaeda men, who were wielding rifles, Kilwi vowed to avenge the deaths at al Majalah. "Our issue is with the Americans and their lackeys." He finished his brief speech, and then he and his cohorts jumped back in the vehicles and disappeared into the mountains. That night, video of the speech was broadcast across the globe. Bin Fareed's gathering was portrayed as an al Qaeda rally, just as he had feared.

"They really spoiled our meeting," bin Fareed recalled. But he was vindicated in the end. The men who had hijacked his rally were killed a few days later when the United States launched another cruise missile attack. Maybe the Americans had tracked them after they showed up at the rally, bin Fareed speculated. "They were killed," he said. "All of them."

In Yemen, outrage about al Majalah was spreading, fueled largely by the assumption that it was a US bombing. The Yemeni parliament dispatched a delegation to do an on-the-ground investigation. When they arrived in the village, they "found that all the homes and their contents were burnt and all that was left were traces of furniture" along with "traces of blood of the victims and a number of holes in the ground left by the bombing...as well as a number of unexploded bombs." Their investigation determined that the strike had killed forty-one members of two families, including fourteen women and twenty-one children. Some of the dead were sleeping when the missiles hit. The Saleh government insisted that fourteen al Qaeda operatives were killed, but the Yemeni parliamentary investigators said the government could only provide them with one name of an al Qaeda operative killed in the bombing—Kazemi, the "leader" known as Akron on JSOC's list. Various Yemeni journalists and security analysts I interviewed were puzzled as to why Kazemi was being portrayed as an al Qaeda leader, pointing out that he was an aging veteran of the earlier wars in Afghanistan and was not a major figure within AQAP.

After the strike, a senior Yemeni official told the New York Times, "The involvement of the United States creates sympathy for Al Qaeda. The co- operation is necessary—but there is no doubt that it has an effect for the common man. He sympathizes with Al Qaeda."

On December 21, ambassador Stephen Seche sent a cable from Sana'a back to Washington. Referencing the strikes, he said the Yemeni government "appears not overly concerned about unauthorized leaks regarding the U.S. role and negative media attention to civilian deaths." Seche said that Deputy Prime Minister Rashad al Alimi told him that "any evidence of greater U.S. involvement such as fragments of U.S. munitions found at the sites—could be explained away as equipment purchased from the U.S." But the United States and Yemen knew Saleh's forces did not have those bombs. In his cable, Ambassador Seche asserted that Yemen "must think seriously about its public posture and whether its strict adherence to assertions that the strikes were unilateral will undermine public support for legitimate and urgently needed CT operations, should evidence to the contrary surface."

Indeed, months after the strike, Amnesty International published photographic evidence of the US bombs found at the scene. The Pentagon would not respond to the group's inquiries about the munitions. "A military strike of this kind against alleged militants without an attempt to detain them is at the very least unlawful," said Philip Luther, deputy director of Amnesty International's Middle East–North Africa division. "The fact that so many of the victims were actually women and children indicates that the attack was in fact grossly irresponsible." Amnesty noted that neither Yemen nor the United States had signed the Convention on Cluster Munitions, a treaty designed to ban the very weapons used in the strikes. Without publicly confirming the strike was a US operation, unnamed American officials "cited strained resources" in the decision to use the cruise missile, alleging that with "the C.I.A.'s armed drones tied up with the bombing campaign in Pakistan...cruise missiles were all that was available at the time."

Yemeni officials told the US ambassador they had given the governor of Abyan $100,000 to pay off the victims and the families of the dead. Meanwhile, anonymous senior US counterterrorism officials defended the strikes. One told the New York Times they had been "conducted very methodically" and that reports of civilian deaths were "very much exaggerated." But according to journalist Daniel Klaidman, Jeh Johnson, the Pentagon lawyer who signed off on the strikes, reportedly said of his role in the al Majalah bombing, "If I were Catholic, I'd have to go to confession." For his part, Saleh told the United States he wanted such operations to continue "non-stop until we eradicate this disease," with Alimi adding that Yemen "'must maintain the status quo' with regard to the official denial of U.S. involvement in order to ensure additional 'positive operations' against AQAP," according to a US cable sent four days after the strike. Yemen's foreign minister, Abu Bakr al Qirbi, asked the United States to "stay quiet" on its role in the strikes, saying it "should continue to refer inquiries to the Yemeni Government, highlight the [Yemeni government's] indigenous CT capabilities, and stress that al-Qaeda represents a threat not only to the West, but also to Yemen's security." While US diplomats continued to develop the cover story with their Yemeni counterparts, more operations were being planned.

The role of the US government in the attacks in Yemen was only revealed through leaks. But it was clear who was calling the shots. Amid demands from the Yemeni parliament to explain the al Majalah massacre, Deputy Prime Minister Alimi started spinning an updated version of the story, saying, "Yemeni security forces carried out the operations using intelligence aid from Saudi Arabia and the United States of America in our fight against terrorism." Although closer to the truth, that version of events was also false. "It was cruise missile strikes in combination with military units on the ground," said Sebastian Gorka, an instructor at the US Special Operations Command's Joint Special Operations University, who had trained Yemeni forces. "It was a very distinct signal from the Obama administration that they are serious in assisting Yemen to remove these al Qaeda facilities from its soil. That was very much something executed by the United States, but with heavy support by the Yemeni government." According to senior US military and intelligence officials, during the ground raid that followed the December 17 Arhab strike near Sana'a, Yemeni Special Operations Forces working with the JSOC team discovered someone they claimed was a surviving al Qaeda would-be suicide bomber, who still had his vest on. He was taken into custody and interrogated, producing what the United States believed was actionable intelligence. A week after the deadly Abyan air strike and the ground raids near Sana'a, President Obama signed off on another hit, based in part on information provided by the prisoner taken in the Arhab raid. This time the target was an American citizen.

You can read the 600-page "Dirty Wars" and support Truthout by ordering it here for a minimum contribution of $40.

Copyright (2013) of Jeremy Scahill and Nation Books. May not be republished without permission of the author or publisher.

Copyright, Truthout. May not be reprinted without permission of the author.

Jeremy Scahill

Jeremy Scahill is national security correspondent for the Nation magazine and author of the New York Times bestsellers Blackwater: The Rise of the World’s Most Powerful Mercenary Army and most recently Dirty Wars: The World Is a Battlefield (both published by Nation Books). He is also the subject, producer, and writer of the film Dirty Wars, an official selection of the 2013 Sundance Film Festival, where it won the US documentary cinematography prize, now available on DVD.


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Jeremy Scahill Recounts How the US Dirty Wars Killed Women and Children in a Yemeni Village

Friday, 24 May 2013 00:00 By Jeremy Scahill, Nation Books | Book Excerpt

Jeremy Scahill.Jeremy Scahill exposes America's "Dirty Wars." (Photo: dirtywars.org)In his New York Times best selling Dirty Wars: The World Is a Battlefield, investigative reporter Jeremy Scahill offers a riveting follow-up to his 2007 Blackwater: The Rise of the World's Most Powerful Mercenary Army. Only now, in the Obama administration, the CIA has assumed the role – working with the Pentagon at times – of carrying out extra judicial killings through drone strikes, missile attacks coordinated with the military, and special unit assaults, among other strategies.

What were formerly actions too illicit and morally disturbing to be carried out by US intelligence agencies and the armed forces are now incorporated, as Scahill recounts in this exhaustively researched book (with nearly 100 pages of footnotes), within the CIA and the Pentagon through a joint oversight committee known as the JSOC.

At a time when the Obama administration is trying to intimidate journalists to keep them form revealing unfavorable information about the administration's national security actions (including the infamous presidential assassination list), Scahill has written a book that draws on a plethora of sources who provided him with details of the dirty wars that began with Cheney and Rumsfeld, but have expanded under the Obama administration.

Scahill's "Dirty Wars" is written in the illustrious tradition of Seymour Hersh who exposed the My Lai massacre and is a long-time investigative journalist for The New Yorker. "Dirty Wars" can also be seen as a documentary film when it is released in June.

You can read the 600-page "Dirty Wars" and support Truthout by ordering it here for a minimum contribution of $40.

The following excerpt is from Chapter 32 of "Dirty Wars."

"If They Kill Innocent Children and Call Them al Qaeda, Then We Are All al Qaeda"

Washington, DC, and Yemen, 2009 — On December 16, 2009, top US national security officials were given a file of "baseball cards" containing the bios of three alleged AQAP members whom Admiral McRaven wanted taken out by JSOC in a proposed "series of targeted killings" inside Yemen. Their code names were Objectives Akron, Toledo and Cleveland. JSOC wanted to move on the targets in less than twenty-four hours and needed an answer from the lawyers: yes or no. The officials who made up the killing committee had little time to review the intelligence. Both Harold Koh, the State Department's legal adviser, and his counterpart at the Pentagon, Jeh Johnson, reportedly had just forty-five minutes from the time they received the files until the JSOC-led teleconference that would decide if the missions were a go. This meeting was larger than most targeting meetings, involving some seventy-five officials. The Obama administration was about to start bombing Yemen, and the national security establishment was mobilized.

Admiral McRaven was beamed into the meeting via teleconference and, with the cold and direct tone he was famous for, laid out the military case for "kinetic action" against the "targets." The main target, "Akron," was Mohammed Saleh Mohammed Ali al Kazemi, whom the United States had identified as an AQAP deputy in Yemen's Abyan Province. JSOC had been hunting Kazemi and McRaven's men had "tracked him to a training camp near the village of al-Majalah." Kazemi had evaded JSOC for months. Now, McRaven said, the US intelligence had a dead lock on his position. After ruling out a capture operation and weighing other military options, the team decided on a JSOC-led cruise missile attack on the camp.

Johnson felt "heavy pressure exerted by the military to kill" and believed he had been "rushed and unprepared" to weigh all of the options. Still, he gave his thumbs up. A short time later, Johnson watched the satellite imagery of al Majalah from a command center in the Pentagon. Figures that appeared to be the size of ants moved around. And then with a massive flash they were vaporized. The feed Johnson watched was referred to internally at JSOC as "Kill TV." Now Johnson knew why.

On the morning of December 17, Sheikh Saleh bin Fareed's BlackBerry started ringing. Tribesmen from his Aulaq tribe told him there had been a horrible incident in a tiny Bedouin village in Abyan Province called al Ma- jalah. Early that morning, missiles had rained down on the modest dwellings of a dozen families that lived in the remote, barren, mountainous village. Dozens of people had been killed, the callers told bin Fareed, many of them women and children. Bin Fareed turned on Al Jazeera just as the news was breaking. The announcer read a press release from the Yemeni government, which said that Yemeni warplanes had conducted an attack against an al Qaeda training camp, dealing a devastating blow to the militants. Bin Fareed called his chief bodyguard and his driver and ordered them to get his SUV prepared for the half-day's drive from Aden to al Majalah.

Bin Fareed is one of the most powerful men in southern Yemen. His family's lineage traces back to the sultans who once ruled the Arabian Peninsula. After British colonialists arrived in southern Yemen in 1839, the Aulaq tribe became one of their most prized tribal allies. From 1937 to 1963, the southern Yemeni city of Aden existed as a Crown colony, with remote areas governed through a series of treaties with tribes. Bin Fareed, whose father was a sultan, was educated in British schools and grew up as royalty. In 1960, he went to the United Kingdom for college and military schooling and then returned to Yemen, where he joined the army. In 1967, Marxists took control of southern Yemen and the British withdrew. Bin Fareed and his family fled Yemen, believing they would return in a few months. It would be nearly a quarter century.

Eventually, bin Fareed came to terms with the fact that he would live in exile. He worked much of his young adult life building up businesses elsewhere in the Gulf, and he spent extensive time at his family's estate in the south of England. As the years passed, he became a major transportation and construction contractor in the Gulf. By 1990, bin Fareed was an extremely wealthy man. That year President Saleh unified North and South Yemen and he called bin Fareed. Saleh needed the tribes to help him consolidate his control over the south of the country, so he cut a deal with the tribal sheikhs to return. In 1991, bin Fareed was back in Yemen.

By the time al Qaeda began to formally organize an affiliate in Yemen in 2009, bin Fareed had once again become a powerful figure in the country. He was a member of parliament, leader of a huge tribe and was building a massive private resort right on the Gulf of Aden. He knew there were a handful of people who had ties to al Qaeda, including members of his own tribe, but he primarily saw them as tribesmen and was not particularly troubled by the jihadis, as Yemen was full of veterans of the mujahedeen war in Afghanistan and elsewhere. What's more, those men were widely considered to be national heroes. Bin Fareed remembered when Fahd al Quso was arrested for his role in the Cole bombing. Quso's job was to film the bombing, but he had overslept. When the government took Quso into custody as a conspirator in the plot, bin Fareed was called in to mediate, as Quso was a member of the Aulaq tribe. "That's the first time I heard that any Awlaki belongs to al Qaeda," he said. "And it was just limited to him, and I think, one or two others."

Now, nine years later, bin Fareed watched as news reports alleged that an al Qaeda stronghold was right in the middle of his tribal areas. The reports said "that our government attacked al Qaeda in al Majalah where al Qaeda has a base, and a field for training. And they have huge stores for all kinds of weapons and ammunition, and rockets, all this. And it was a successful attack," bin Fareed recalled. "And they did not mention the Americans at all." Bin Fareed found it impossible to believe that there was an al Qaeda base in al Majalah. Even if there were al Qaeda members there, he thought, the government could easily have sent in a ground force to root them out. The reports he was getting about air strikes made no sense to him. It was a remote area, but it wasn't Tora Bora.

As soon as bin Fareed arrived in al Majalah, he was horrified. "When we went there, we could not believe our eyes. I mean, if somebody had a weak heart, I think he would collapse. You see goats and sheep all over, you see the heads of those who were killed here and there. You see their bodies, you see children. I mean some of them, they were not hit immediately, but by the fire, they were burned," he told me. Body parts were strewn around the village. "You could not tell if this meat belongs to animals or to human beings," he remembered. They tried to gather what body parts they could to bury the dead. "Some of the meat we could not reach, even. It was eaten by the birds." As bin Fareed surveyed the carnage, most of the victims he saw were women and children. "They were all children, old women, all kinds of sheep and goats and cows. Unbelievable." He examined the site and found no evidence that there was anything even vaguely resembling a training camp. "Why did they do this? Why in the hell are they doing this?" he asked. "There are no [weapons] stores, there is no field for training. There is nobody, except a very poor tribe, one of the poorest tribes in the south."

I later met with several survivors of the attack, in Abyan, including a local tribal leader named Muqbal, spared because he had gone out to run errands in a nearby village. "People saw the smoke and felt the earth shake—they had never seen anything like it. Most of the dead were women, children and the elderly. Five pregnant women were killed," he told me. After the missiles hit, "I ran to the area. I found scattered bodies and injured women and children." A woman who survived the strike sobbed as she recalled for me what happened. "At 6:00 a.m. [my family members] were sleeping and I was making bread. When the missiles exploded, I lost consciousness. I didn't know what had happened to my children, my daughter, my husband. Only I survived with this old man and my daughter. They died. They all died." In all, more than forty people were killed at al Majalah, including fourteen women and twenty-one children.

Muqbal, who adopted an orphaned child, was incredulous at the allegation that his village was an al Qaeda base. "If they kill innocent children and call them al Qaeda, then we are all al Qaeda," he told me. "If children are terrorists, then we are all terrorists."

As bin Fareed examined the wreckage, he saw missile parts that appeared to be from Tomahawk cruise missiles. "Of course, our government does not have this kind of rockets. I mean, any ordinary man could tell that this belongs to a big nation, a big government," he told me. Then he found a missile part labeled: "Made in the United States." Al Majalah was also littered with cluster bombs. A few days after the strike, three more people were killed when one exploded.

Bin Fareed believed the Yemeni government was lying and that the Americans had bombed al Majalah and massacred dozens of innocent people. And he set out to prove it. As did a young Yemeni reporter.

Abdulelah Haider Shaye was a rare kind of journalist in a country with a media dominated by regime sycophants. "We were only exposed to Western media and Arab media funded by the West, which depicts only one image of al Qaeda," recalled his best friend, Kamal Sharaf, a well-known dissident Yemeni political cartoonist. "But Abdulelah brought a different viewpoint." Shaye had no reverence for al Qaeda, but he did view the group's ascent in Yemen as an important story, according to Sharaf. Shaye was able to get access to al Qaeda figures in part because of his relationship, through marriage, to the radical Islamic cleric Abdul Majeed al Zindani, the founder of Iman University and a US Treasury Department– designated terrorist.

Although Sharaf acknowledged that Shaye used his connections to gain access to al Qaeda, he added that Shaye also "boldly" criticized Zindani and his supporters: "He said the truth with no fear." Shaye had done in-depth profiles on Wuhayshi and Shihri, the leaders of AQAP, and had documented their bomb-making capabilities. In one story, Shaye nervously tried on a suicide vest that AQAP had made. He was the leading chronicler of the rise of the movement. His journalism was famous inside Yemen and across the world.

Shaye had long been known as a brave, independent-minded journalist in Yemen, and his collision course with the US government appeared to have been set when al Majalah was bombed. As the story spread across the world, Shaye traveled to the village. There he discovered the remnants of the Tomahawk cruise missiles and cluster bombs, neither of which were in the Yemeni military's arsenal. He photographed the missile parts, some of them bearing the label "Made in the United States," and distributed the photos to international media outlets and human rights organizations. He reported that the majority of the victims were women, children and the elderly. After conducting his own investigation, Shaye determined that it was a US strike, and he was all over the media telling anyone who would listen. The young journalist was becoming a thorn in America's side. But when he started interviewing Anwar Awlaki, he would become a target.

Bin Fareed and Shaye were right. Al Majalah was the opening salvo in America's newest war. Unlike the CIA's "covert action" programs, which require formal notification to the House and Senate intelligence committees, this operation was done under a military "Special Access Program," which gives the armed forces wide latitude to conduct lethal, secret operations with little, if any, oversight.

In Yemen, the operations were all being coordinated by US Special Operations Forces based at the US-Yemen joint operations center in Sana'a, with JSOC's intelligence division coordinating the intel, directing Yemeni forces in on-the-ground raids and providing coordinates for US missile strikes. Inside the facility, US and Ye- meni military and intelligence officials had access to real-time electronic and video surveillance, as well as three-dimensional terrain maps. The US personnel inside Yemen fed intel and operational details back to the NSA in Fort Meade, the Special Operations Command in Tampa and to other intelligence and military agencies.

This is how al Majalah went down. It was December 17 in Yemen. Soon after Obama's committee met in Washington and approved the operation to assassinate Kazemi and the other al Qaeda members on Admiral McRaven's kill list, JSOC launched surveillance aircraft to monitor the intended targets. The operation kicked off in the early morning hours, as Tomahawk cruise missiles were fired from a submarine positioned in the waters off Yemen's coast. It was armed with cluster munitions. The missiles slammed into a collection of dwellings in al Majalah. Meanwhile, another strike was launched in Arhab, a suburb of the capital, Sana'a, followed up by raids on suspected al Qaeda houses by Yemeni special ops troops from the US-trained CTU, backed by JSOC. Authorization for the US strikes was rushed through President Saleh's office because of "actionable" intelligence that al Qaeda suicide bombers were preparing for strikes in the Yemeni capital. The target in Arhab, according to intel reports, was an al Qaeda house believed to be housing a big fish: AQAP leader Qasim al Rimi. In Abyan, an anonymous US official told ABC News, "an imminent attack against a U.S. asset was being planned."

A military source familiar with the operation told me al Majalah was a "JSOC operation with borrowed Navy subs, borrowed Marine Corps, Air Force and Navy surveillance aircraft and close coordination with CIA and DIA on the ground in Yemen. Counting the crew of the sub we're talking 350–400 [people] in the loop."

When word of the strikes first broke, Saleh's government publicly took responsibility. Yemen's defense ministry said its forces had mounted "successful pre-emptive operations" against al Qaeda, saying they had killed thirty-four terrorists and arrested seventeen others. The Pentagon refused to comment, directing all inquiries to Yemen's government, which released a statement taking credit for the coordinated strikes, saying in a press release that its forces "carried out simultaneous raids killing and detaining militants." President Obama called Saleh to "congratulate" him and to "thank him for his cooperation and pledge continuing American support." Egyptian dictator Hosni Mubarak also phoned to express his satisfaction to Saleh.

But as images of the al Majalah strike emerged, some military analysts who reviewed the footage of the aftermath questioned whether Yemen had the type of weapons used in the Abyan hit. Al Jazeera broadcast video of artillery shells with visible serial numbers and speculated that the attack was done with a US cruise missile. Abdulelah Haider Shaye was interviewed on the network describing the dead civilians he had seen in al Majalah. Among the munitions found at the scene were BLU 97 A/B cluster bomblets, which explode into some two hundred sharp steel fragments that can spray more than four hundred feet away. In essence, they are flying land mines capable of shredding human bodies. The bomblets were also equipped with an incendiary material, burning zirconium, that set fire to flammable objects in the target area. The missile used in the attack, a BGM-109D Tomahawk, can carry more than 160 cluster bombs.

None of these munitions were in Yemen's arsenal. As news of the strike spread, Admiral Mike Mullen, the chair of the Joint Chiefs, sat aboard his military aircraft returning from a trip to Iraq and Afghanistan and praised what he characterized as Yemeni operations supported by the United States. "We've actually done quite a bit there. I think we're on a pretty good track," he said. Referring to the attacks, Mullen said, "I really do applaud what they did, who they went after and specifically going after the Al Qaeda cell which has grown significantly over the last couple of years there."

But the vast majority of the victims killed in the strike were not, in fact, al Qaeda terrorists. Many of the victims, according to a classified US diplomatic cable, were "largely nomadic, Bedouin families who lived in tents near the AQAP training camp." A senior Yemeni defense official described them as "poor people selling food and supplies to the terrorists, but were nonetheless acting in collusion with the terrorists and benefiting financially from AQAP's presence in the area." For al Qaeda, the takeaway was clear: the strikes were a US operation. AQAP could use the images of the aftermath, including those of dead and disfigured children, to rally Yemenis to their cause.

Saleh bin Fareed was livid as he watched the way the al Majalah bombing was covered in the international media. Virtually every West- ern news outlet that covered the story said that Yemen had targeted an al Qaeda training camp and that the strike had been a success. But bin Fareed had been there. He'd helped scrape the remains of poor Bedouin villagers off of trees. He had seen the bodies of dead children pulled from rubble. He had promised newly orphaned children that he would take care of them, and he had seen the markings on the missile parts that showed they came from the United States. He was determined to make sure that the world understood that the victims of the strike were not al Qaeda—and that America was responsible.

On December 20, bin Fareed organized a massive gathering of tribal lead- ers from across Yemen—nearly 150 of Yemen's most powerful sheikhs. It was no small feat. There were age-old disputes, current feuds and lethal hatred among some of the powerful tribesmen in attendance. But bin Fareed persuaded them all to pledge that they would put aside their differences for the task at hand. "We made an open invitation to many sheikhs from all tribes. They came from Marib, al Jawf. They came from the North, they came from the South," he recalled. "We drove all the way from everywhere to Majalah, just to prove, and show all media that what our government says is not true. The Majalah disaster was done by the Americans. And there was not al Qaeda whatsoever."

Bin Fareed's goal was to gather tens of thousands of Yemenis from across the country in al Majalah to show their solidarity with the victims of the missile strike. One of his estates was about one hundred miles from al Majalah, and he offered all of the visiting tribal leaders hospitality the night before, so that they could travel together as one unit to the demonstration the next day.

At about 9:30 at night, as the tribesmen finished up their dinner and discussion of the logistics for the following day, one of bin Fareed's guards approached him. He whispered to the sheikh that there were about a half dozen men who had pulled up to the compound. "They want to see you," the guard told bin Fareed, who waved for them to be allowed into the house.

"But they are heavily loaded with machine guns, with hand grenades, with rocket launchers," the guard told him. "Does not matter," bin Fareed replied. "We are equipped the same. They are not enemies."

The men entered the house. They were young and well dressed, clean-cut. They made small talk. Bin Fareed asked them their names. He knew their tribes, but not the individuals. He asked them what they did for a living. The men laughed and looked at each other. "We are unemployed," one said. Then he added, "They say we are al Qaeda." "Are you?" bin Fareed asked. The men eventually admitted they were. "There is not one single American, or one single Israeli, or one single Brit, here in Shabwah," bin Fareed admonished them. "You are making a lot of trouble for your people. You are giving a bad reputation, to us and to our tribe. If you want to fight the Israelis, then I will buy you some tickets and I will send you to Palestine."

Bin Fareed was losing his patience. "What can I do for you?" he asked. The men told him that they had heard about the gathering in al Majalah and asked bin Fareed if they could address the crowd. "If you are coming tomorrow, as ordinary tribesmen, you are welcome," bin Fareed told them, but not as al Qaeda representatives. "No," one of them responded. "We want to come and give a speech and talk about al Qaeda." Bin Fareed lost his temper. "This means that you are really idiots. Really idiots," he told the young men. "Our gathering is to prove to the whole world that there is no al Qaeda" in al Majalah and that "those people who were killed were innocent." If they came, he told them, the "media will say that all of us, we are al Qaeda." He warned them not to show up. "If you do come," he told them, "you shave my beard, if you survive three days." It was a grave warning. In Yemen, under tribal customs, to have one's beard shaved in public by another man is to be humiliated for life. Bin Fareed was telling the young al Qaeda men that he would have them killed if they stepped foot in al Majalah.

The next morning at 4:30, bin Fareed and the scores of tribal leaders he had gathered at his home caravanned to al Majalah. When they arrived, tens of thousands of Yemenis had already assembled. Tents had been set up and there were cars as far as the eye could see. "We estimate that day, that the gathering was between 50,000 and 70,000, some estimate it was more," bin Fareed said. As bin Fareed settled into one of the massive tents and began going over the program for the day, his guards burst in. They told him that the men from last night—the members of al Qaeda—were standing on a car, giving a speech through a megaphone. Bin Fareed grabbed his automatic weapon and darted out of the tent. His men held him back. "Either they will kill me or I will kill them," bin Fareed said. "I warned them." It was too late. The al Qaeda men had already achieved their goal.

As bin Fareed was grabbing his machine gun, one of the al Qaeda men, Muhammad al Kilwi, was standing on a car speaking to a crowd on the periphery of the demonstration. With a henna-dyed beard and a military jacket, he declared, "Al Qaeda's war in Yemen is against the United States, not against the Yemeni military." Standing aside the other al Qaeda men, who were wielding rifles, Kilwi vowed to avenge the deaths at al Majalah. "Our issue is with the Americans and their lackeys." He finished his brief speech, and then he and his cohorts jumped back in the vehicles and disappeared into the mountains. That night, video of the speech was broadcast across the globe. Bin Fareed's gathering was portrayed as an al Qaeda rally, just as he had feared.

"They really spoiled our meeting," bin Fareed recalled. But he was vindicated in the end. The men who had hijacked his rally were killed a few days later when the United States launched another cruise missile attack. Maybe the Americans had tracked them after they showed up at the rally, bin Fareed speculated. "They were killed," he said. "All of them."

In Yemen, outrage about al Majalah was spreading, fueled largely by the assumption that it was a US bombing. The Yemeni parliament dispatched a delegation to do an on-the-ground investigation. When they arrived in the village, they "found that all the homes and their contents were burnt and all that was left were traces of furniture" along with "traces of blood of the victims and a number of holes in the ground left by the bombing...as well as a number of unexploded bombs." Their investigation determined that the strike had killed forty-one members of two families, including fourteen women and twenty-one children. Some of the dead were sleeping when the missiles hit. The Saleh government insisted that fourteen al Qaeda operatives were killed, but the Yemeni parliamentary investigators said the government could only provide them with one name of an al Qaeda operative killed in the bombing—Kazemi, the "leader" known as Akron on JSOC's list. Various Yemeni journalists and security analysts I interviewed were puzzled as to why Kazemi was being portrayed as an al Qaeda leader, pointing out that he was an aging veteran of the earlier wars in Afghanistan and was not a major figure within AQAP.

After the strike, a senior Yemeni official told the New York Times, "The involvement of the United States creates sympathy for Al Qaeda. The co- operation is necessary—but there is no doubt that it has an effect for the common man. He sympathizes with Al Qaeda."

On December 21, ambassador Stephen Seche sent a cable from Sana'a back to Washington. Referencing the strikes, he said the Yemeni government "appears not overly concerned about unauthorized leaks regarding the U.S. role and negative media attention to civilian deaths." Seche said that Deputy Prime Minister Rashad al Alimi told him that "any evidence of greater U.S. involvement such as fragments of U.S. munitions found at the sites—could be explained away as equipment purchased from the U.S." But the United States and Yemen knew Saleh's forces did not have those bombs. In his cable, Ambassador Seche asserted that Yemen "must think seriously about its public posture and whether its strict adherence to assertions that the strikes were unilateral will undermine public support for legitimate and urgently needed CT operations, should evidence to the contrary surface."

Indeed, months after the strike, Amnesty International published photographic evidence of the US bombs found at the scene. The Pentagon would not respond to the group's inquiries about the munitions. "A military strike of this kind against alleged militants without an attempt to detain them is at the very least unlawful," said Philip Luther, deputy director of Amnesty International's Middle East–North Africa division. "The fact that so many of the victims were actually women and children indicates that the attack was in fact grossly irresponsible." Amnesty noted that neither Yemen nor the United States had signed the Convention on Cluster Munitions, a treaty designed to ban the very weapons used in the strikes. Without publicly confirming the strike was a US operation, unnamed American officials "cited strained resources" in the decision to use the cruise missile, alleging that with "the C.I.A.'s armed drones tied up with the bombing campaign in Pakistan...cruise missiles were all that was available at the time."

Yemeni officials told the US ambassador they had given the governor of Abyan $100,000 to pay off the victims and the families of the dead. Meanwhile, anonymous senior US counterterrorism officials defended the strikes. One told the New York Times they had been "conducted very methodically" and that reports of civilian deaths were "very much exaggerated." But according to journalist Daniel Klaidman, Jeh Johnson, the Pentagon lawyer who signed off on the strikes, reportedly said of his role in the al Majalah bombing, "If I were Catholic, I'd have to go to confession." For his part, Saleh told the United States he wanted such operations to continue "non-stop until we eradicate this disease," with Alimi adding that Yemen "'must maintain the status quo' with regard to the official denial of U.S. involvement in order to ensure additional 'positive operations' against AQAP," according to a US cable sent four days after the strike. Yemen's foreign minister, Abu Bakr al Qirbi, asked the United States to "stay quiet" on its role in the strikes, saying it "should continue to refer inquiries to the Yemeni Government, highlight the [Yemeni government's] indigenous CT capabilities, and stress that al-Qaeda represents a threat not only to the West, but also to Yemen's security." While US diplomats continued to develop the cover story with their Yemeni counterparts, more operations were being planned.

The role of the US government in the attacks in Yemen was only revealed through leaks. But it was clear who was calling the shots. Amid demands from the Yemeni parliament to explain the al Majalah massacre, Deputy Prime Minister Alimi started spinning an updated version of the story, saying, "Yemeni security forces carried out the operations using intelligence aid from Saudi Arabia and the United States of America in our fight against terrorism." Although closer to the truth, that version of events was also false. "It was cruise missile strikes in combination with military units on the ground," said Sebastian Gorka, an instructor at the US Special Operations Command's Joint Special Operations University, who had trained Yemeni forces. "It was a very distinct signal from the Obama administration that they are serious in assisting Yemen to remove these al Qaeda facilities from its soil. That was very much something executed by the United States, but with heavy support by the Yemeni government." According to senior US military and intelligence officials, during the ground raid that followed the December 17 Arhab strike near Sana'a, Yemeni Special Operations Forces working with the JSOC team discovered someone they claimed was a surviving al Qaeda would-be suicide bomber, who still had his vest on. He was taken into custody and interrogated, producing what the United States believed was actionable intelligence. A week after the deadly Abyan air strike and the ground raids near Sana'a, President Obama signed off on another hit, based in part on information provided by the prisoner taken in the Arhab raid. This time the target was an American citizen.

You can read the 600-page "Dirty Wars" and support Truthout by ordering it here for a minimum contribution of $40.

Copyright (2013) of Jeremy Scahill and Nation Books. May not be republished without permission of the author or publisher.

Copyright, Truthout. May not be reprinted without permission of the author.

Jeremy Scahill

Jeremy Scahill is national security correspondent for the Nation magazine and author of the New York Times bestsellers Blackwater: The Rise of the World’s Most Powerful Mercenary Army and most recently Dirty Wars: The World Is a Battlefield (both published by Nation Books). He is also the subject, producer, and writer of the film Dirty Wars, an official selection of the 2013 Sundance Film Festival, where it won the US documentary cinematography prize, now available on DVD.


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