Yemeni poets, graffiti artists against US drone strikes


A Yemeni boy looks at graffiti depicting a U.S. drone at a street in Sana'a, Yemen, Nov. 6, 2013. Photo: Yahya Arhab / EPA

From TIME magazine in the USA:

Yemen’s New Ways of Protesting Drone Strikes: Graffiti and Poetry

Street artists and poets in Yemen campaign against American drone strikes

By Tik Root / Sana’a, Nov. 30, 2013

An American drone hovers along a main thoroughfare in the Yemeni capital, Sana’a. Not a real drone, but rather a 7 foot-long rendition of an unmanned aircraft spray-painted near the top of a whitewashed city wall. Below it, a stenciled-on child is writing: “Why did you kill my family?” in blood-red English and Arabic script.

Painted by Yemeni artist Murad Subay, the Banksy-esque mural sits beside three others also admonishing the United States’ use of drones in Yemen to track and kill terrorism suspects. This drone art is part of Subay’s latest campaign, “12 Hours”, which aims to raise awareness about twelve problems facing Yemen, including weapons proliferation, sectarianism, kidnapping and poverty. Drones are the fifth and arguably most striking “hour” yet completed.

“Graffiti in Yemen, or street art, is a new device to communicate with the people,” says Subay, 26, who after taking up street art two years ago in the wake of Yemen’s Arab Spring revolution has almost single-handedly sparked the growing Yemeni graffiti movement. “In one second, you can send a message.”

The anti-drone chorus in Yemen has grown louder since the Obama Administration took office in 2009. All but one of the dozens of reported drone strikes in Yemen have been carried out since Obama came to office (although strikes here and in Pakistan have been more sporadic in recent months). Operations are rarely acknowledged by American officials but have nonetheless stirred a global debate about the strikes’ legality, morality and effectiveness.

Proponents argue that drones offer an efficient way of fighting al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, a Yemen-based affiliate of the global terrorist network. The Yemeni President Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi has endorsed the program, praising ongoing U.S.-Yemen counterterrorism cooperation and the “high precision that’s been provided by drones.” Human rights activists in Yemen and the families of many victims are outraged by the so-called “drone war” in the country, which the Bureau of Investigative Journalism estimates has resulted in between 21 and 56 civilian deaths. Aside from more conventional methods of protest – such as demonstrations, media campaigns, and the production of often scathing reports – activists are increasingly employing art as a medium through which to express their anger.

“We [have] tried to be a little bit more creative on ways [that] we can really combat the fact that drones are hovering over our cities and villages,” said Baraa Shiban, a Yemeni activist and project coordinator for the British-based organization Reprieve, which advocates for the rights of prisoners to receive a fair trial. Taking their lead from Yemen’s reputation for recitation, the group organized an anti-drone poetry contest earlier this month. The top prize: $600 or, in Reprieve’s words, “1% of the cost of a hellfire missile.”

A panel of Yemeni poets whittled the more than 30 submissions down to six finalists and a winner. Frontrunners gathered on a recent Tuesday afternoon to share their work. One by one, contestants read their poems aloud. Some delivered their verse – containing lines such as “From above, Death descends upon us,” “Drones are the friend of our enemy” and “Do you fight terrorism with terrorism?” – more fluently than others, but the small audience of mostly friends and fellow activists greeted all of the contestants with equally boisterous applause. The winner: Drones Without Rhyme, a catchy free verse poem with a familiar theme. The winning poet, Ayman Shahari, beamed as he walked on stage.

Despite not winning, Raghda Gamal, a journalist and author of the entry Death Flying Around!, was glad that she had participated. “It’s great to use such art to send your case,” she said. “We can use a lot of tools rather than weapons.”

Reprieve’s Shiban says that creative events like this help broaden discussions in Yemen, a country with high rates of illiteracy and limited Internet penetration. “It’s a way of engaging more sectors of society,” he says.

Subay agrees. “[Art] galleries in Yemen belong to one class. Graffiti is for all people,” he says. Two years ago there was hardly a stencil to be seen on public walls but today, thanks largely to Subay’s campaigns, they are plastered across some of the country’s most trafficked areas. Subay estimates that, in all, millions of citizens have now been exposed to street art.

Shiban is optimistic that cultural forms of protest like poetry and graffiti could be a step on the path toward ending drone strikes and affecting other changes in Yemen. Subay, however, is skeptical that art will alter policy, saying that the United States’ counterterrorism strategy will likely “carry on” regardless.

“Maybe I don’t expect any action [from the U.S.],” said Subay. “But I’ll always keep hoping.”

Whether or not the anti-drone poetry and graffiti influences American policy in Yemen, one thing seems clear: for a region whose people have so often lived under dictators and through times of violence, peaceful protest of this sort can only be healthy.

Drone attacks on Pakistan, Yemen are war crimes, Amnesty says


This video from the USA is called Drone Strikes Kill Numerous Civilians – Report.

From daily The Guardian in Britain:

Amnesty says US officials should face war crimes charges over drone strikes

Joint report with Human Rights Watch judges attacks in Yemen and Pakistan to have broken international human rights law

Jon Boone in Islamabad

Tuesday 22 October 2013

US officials responsible for the secret CIA drone campaign against suspected terrorists in Pakistan may have committed war crimes and should stand trial, a report by a leading human rights group warns. Amnesty International has highlighted the case of a grandmother who was killed while she was picking vegetables and other incidents which could have broken international laws designed to protect civilians.

The report is issued in conjunction with an investigation by Human Rights Watch detailing missile attacks in Yemen which the group believes could contravene the laws of armed conflict, international human rights law and Barack Obama’s own guidelines on drones.

The reports are being published while Nawaz Sharif, Pakistan’s prime minister, is in Washington. Sharif has promised to tell Obama that the drone strikes – which have caused outrage in Pakistan – must end.

Getting to the bottom of individual strikes is exceptionally difficult in the restive areas bordering Afghanistan, where thousands of militants have settled. People are often terrified of speaking out, fearing retribution from both militants and the state, which is widely suspected of colluding with the CIA-led campaign.

There is also a risk of militants attempting to skew outside research by forcing interviewees into “providing false or inaccurate information”, the report said.

But Amnesty mounted a major effort to investigate nine of the many attacks to have struck the region over the last 18 months, including one that killed 18 labourers in North Waziristan as they waited to eat dinner in an area of heavy Taliban influence in July 2012. All those interviewed by Amnesty strongly denied any of the men had been involved in militancy. Even if they were members of a banned group, that would not be enough to justify killing them, the report said.

“Amnesty International has serious concerns that this attack violated the prohibition of the arbitrary deprivation of life and may constitute war crimes or extrajudicial executions,” the report said. It called for those responsible to stand trial.

The US has repeatedly claimed very few civilians have been killed by drones. It argues its campaign is conducted “consistent with all applicable domestic and international law”.

The Amnesty report supports media accounts from October last year that a 68-year-old woman called Mamana Bibi was killed by a missile fired from a drone while she was picking okra outside her home in North Waziristan with her grandchildren nearby. A second strike minutes later injured family members tending her.

If true, the case is striking failure of a technology much vaunted for its accuracy. It is claimed the remote-controlled planes are able to observe their targets for hours or even days to verify them, and that the explosive force of the missiles is designed to limit collateral damage. As with other controversial drone strikes, the US has refused to acknowledge or explain what happened.

Amnesty said it accepts some US drone strikes may not violate the law, “but it is impossible to reach any firm assessment without a full disclosure of the facts surrounding individual attacks and their legal basis. The USA appears to be exploiting the lawless and remote nature of the region to evade accountability for its violations,” it said.

In Yemen, another country where US drones are active, Human Rights Watch highlighted six incidents, two of which were a “clear violation of international humanitarian law”. The remaining four may have broken the laws of armed conflict because the targets were illegitimate or because not enough was done to minimise civilian harm, the report said.

It also argued that some of the Yemen attacks breach the guidelines announced by Obama earlier this year in his first major speech on a programme that is officially top secret. For example, the pledge to kill suspects only when it is impossible to capture them appears to have been ignored on 17 April this year when an al-Qaida leader was blown up in a township in Dhamar province in central Yemen, Human Rights Watch said.

An attack on a truck driving 12 miles south of the capital Sana’a reportedly killed two al-Qaida suspects but also two civilians who had been hired by the other men. That means the attack could have been illegal because it “may have caused disproportionate harm to civilians”.

The legal arguments over drones are extremely complex, with much controversy focusing on whether or not the places where they are used amount to war zones.

Amnesty said some of the strikes in Pakistan might be covered by that claim, but rejected a “global war doctrine” that allows the US to attack al-Qaida anywhere in the world.

“To accept such a policy would be to endorse state practices that fundamentally undermine crucial human rights protections that have been painstakingly developed over more than a century of international law-making,” the report said.

See also here.

Human rights organization, Amnesty International, has released a report that presents two case studies on victims of United States drone strikes in Pakistan and also details the practice of signature strikes, which has led to rescuers being killed in follow-up attacks while they are trying to help wounded individuals: here.

On Syria, Obama went to Congress over military action. But in Yemen, the US has joined a counter-insurgency without a word: here.

British government arrests anti-drone activist as ‘terrorist’


This video from the USA is called As Obama Shuns Hearing, Yemeni Says U.S. Drone War Terrifying Civilians, Empowering Militants.

By Jordan Shilton:

Britain uses anti-terror powers to detain Yemeni activist

28 September 2013

Baraa Shiban, a Yemeni activist who has campaigned against the use of drones, was detained by British authorities on Monday and questioned under anti-terror legislation.

Shiban’s detention comes just one month after police detained David Miranda, the partner of Guardian journalist Glenn Greenwald, who collaborated with former National Security Agency whistle-blower Edward Snowden in exposing mass surveillance by US and UK spy agencies.

Miranda’s, and now Shiban’s detention confirms the increasing use of anti-terrorist legislation to target political opponents.

Shiban was detained at Gatwick airport by border agents under Schedule 7 of the Terrorism Act 2000, which permits the holding of an individual for up to nine hours without access to a lawyer. Shiban was held for over an hour, during which time he was questioned on his political views and activities. He was threatened with a longer period of detention if he did not cooperate by answering questions as to the nature of his political work in Yemen.

Shiban works for the legal charity Reprieve, which is based in London and campaigns for human rights and the rule of law. As head of the organisation’s operations in Yemen, he has led investigations into the impact of drone killings on civilians in that country, something which has become a regular occurrence under the Obama administration. The US government has stepped up its use of drones in Yemen, killing a US citizen, Anwar al-Alawki, in 2011. Shiban’s organisation supports the victims of drone attacks, including with legal proceedings.

According to a Guardian article, Reprieve had recently discovered evidence revealing the complicity of British authorities in US drone strikes in Yemen. Britain provided the intelligence and communications infrastructure to facilitate the attacks. Shiban was questioned on this by his interrogators, stating to the Guardian that he was told, “Your organisation has obviously been causing a lot of problems to your country. The relations between your government and the UK are vital for us.”

In a further exchange, he was asked, “What if your organisation did something bad to your government, and you are here because of the bad things your organisation has done to your government? I want to know, because the relations between Yemen and the UK are important. I want to know that your organisation is not disrupting that.”

The targeting of Shiban is an attempt by the UK government to intimidate all opposition to its imperialist military operations abroad in alliance with the US. To this end, all political opponents face being designated as terrorists in order to deny them the most basic legal and democratic rights. As Shiban put it in his Guardian piece, “Even we in Yemen heard of David Miranda’s nine hours in custody. Then I was stopped. Who will be the next human rights worker caught in the net of schedule 7?”

The extensive powers at the disposal of the state not only to detain individuals, but also to examine any of their possessions, were demonstrated by the detention of Miranda last month. Abetted by the courts, the police have been granted virtually unhindered access to his personal belongings on the grounds of “national security” considerations.

Miranda had been travelling back from Berlin to Brazil, and was carrying leaked documents on the UK’s intelligence operations. He faces the prospect of having criminal charges brought against him.

Following Shiban’s detention, Greenwald revealed internal US intelligence documents leaked by Snowden which illustrate the hostility with which opponents of the use of drones are viewed. In one of the documents, part of a posting on an internal web site, the authors list a series of “threats” to drone use, including weather conditions, air defence systems and electronic warfare. In addition, there is what the document refers to as “propaganda campaigns which target UAV (drone) use.” Any such activity is considered by the spy agencies as “adversary propaganda themes.”

The document contains a blunt justification for the undermining of basic legal principles by the Obama administration and its allies in the UK and other countries, above all on the right of due process. The intelligence document states, under the heading “nationality of target vs. due process,” that “Attacks against American and European persons who have become violent extremists are often criticized by propagandists, arguing that lethal action against these individuals deprives them of due process.”

As Greenwald states, “In the eyes of the US government, ‘due process’—the idea that the US government should not deprive people of life away from a battlefield without presenting evidence of guilt is no longer a basic staple of the American political system, but rather a malicious weapon of propagandists.”

In a related development, Greenwald reported on the case of Shahzad Akbar, a lawyer with Reprieve based in Pakistan who is currently suing the US government over its drone killings of civilians there. The Obama administration refused to grant Akbar a visa this week to enter the US, where the lawyer was to have testified before Congress on the US government’s drone programme.

The Reprieve activists were portrayed as supporters of terrorism. In his questioning by border agents, Shiban reported that he was accused of aiding terrorists because he had dared to criticise the “counterterrorism” operations of the western powers.

The presentation of opponents of drone strikes as supporters of terrorism is particularly dishonest, coming from the very governments who are not only committing terrorist acts by using drones, but also collaborating so intimately with terrorist groups with close links to Al Qaeda in a proxy war in Syria.

Evidence exists showing that British intelligence played a key role in fomenting the “rebels” in their war against the Assad regime. Although it was forced to temporarily pull back from a military strike, the US has stepped up its funding of these organisations, including by supplying arms.

Moreover, if the British and American authorities are suggesting that any opposition to drone strikes automatically equates to support for “terrorism” and places individuals in the “enemy” camp, this must be their view of the vast majority of the population. In a 2012 survey, the Pew research centre found that more than half of the population in 17 of the 20 countries surveyed was opposed to drone strikes. In Greece, 90 percent were opposed, in Egypt 89 percent, Jordan (85 percent), Turkey (81 percent), Spain (76 percent), Brazil (76 percent) and Japan (75 percent). Even in countries where support was higher, such as Britain, 47 percent of people still rejected drone killings.

The increasingly authoritarian methods being employed by the state against activists and human rights campaigners are ultimately aimed at the widespread opposition in the working class to their policies of imperialist war abroad and devastating social cuts at home.

Like Glenn Greenwald’s partner David Miranda, a Yemeni activist was also interrogated under the schedule 7 provision of the Terrorism Act 2000 on Tuesday: here.

More British drone strikes in Afghanistan


This video from the USA is called Drone Strikes Kill Numerous Civilians.

From AFP news agency, September 6, 2013:

Sharp rise in British drone use in Afghanistan

In 2012 British drones flew 892 missions over Afghanistan — firing missiles on 92 occasions

The British military fired nearly seven times as many missiles from unmanned drones in Afghanistan last year as it did five years earlier, according to official data released on Friday.

In 2012 British drones flew 892 missions over Afghanistan — firing missiles on 92 occasions — more than 10 percent of all sorties, junior defence minister Andrew Robathan said in a written statement to parliament.This compares to 2008 when the hi-tech unmanned Reaper aircraft flew 296 missions, firing weapons just five percent of the time, on 14 occasions.Used to target suspected insurgents in Afghanistan, Britain’s Reaper drones are capable of carrying laser-guided Hellfire missiles.

Heavy use of drones by the United States has been one of the most controversial aspects of its fight against Al-Qaeda and Taliban militants in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen and beyond.

Drone fire has killed top leaders from both Islamist networks, but it has also been blamed for scores of civilian deaths.

Yemen’s revolution and drone war


This video is called Drone attacks in Yemen mostly hit civilians.

By Ramzy Baroud:

The crisis in Yemen

Monday 12 August 2013

The US panic and embassy closure in Yemen last week drew eyes towards this poverty-stricken country.

Although it is much less discussed than the crippling political upheavals in Egypt or even the unfolding crisis in Tunisia, Yemen’s ongoing conflict – complete with regular US drone killings – is as complex as either.

Since the 2011 revolution deposed strongman Ali Abdullah Saleh, a “transition” under Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi with the backing of the motley tyrannies of the Gulf Co-operation Council (GCC) has been underway.

But a real transition would involve sincere efforts at reconciliation between the army, tribal militias and other forces battling it out in the country, as well as a rigorous challenge to the undeclared US war in the south. Alas, none of the parties of the Yemeni establishment has the sway, desire or moral authority to lead such an effort.

In one fortnight – from July 27 to August 9 this year – 34 people were killed in Yemen in US drone attacks.

The US mechanically considers all those killed to be al-Qaida terrorists, even when civilians are confirmed among the dead and wounded.

The media sometimes qualifies such statements by describing victims as “suspected militants.”

But it’s left to international human rights groups and the enraged Yemeni people themselves to try to count the civilian dead.

Entire Yemeni communities are in a constant state of panic because of the buzzing metal monsters that operate with complete disregard for international law or the country’s own sovereignty.

Frankly, it is hard to think of Yemen as either a sovereign or territorially unified nation. The country’s foreign policy has long been held hostage to the whims of outsiders.

There is a lack of trust in the central government, which has historically been corrupt and inept, and indeed has often allowed non-state actors to move in and fill the economic and security vacuums in large swathes of the country.

Prior to the January 2011 rebellion the US was the most influential outside power in Yemen. Its goal was to conduct its so-called war on terror unhindered by such irritants as international law, or even objections from the government in Sana’a.

Then president Saleh, Yemen’s dictator for 30 years, obliged. He too had his personal wars to fight and needed US consent for his family-controlled power apparatus.

Just weeks before the revolt US secretary of state Hillary Clinton visited Sana’a. She applied gentle pressure on Saleh to dissuade him from trying to eliminate term limits on his presidency, but the point of her mission was something else.

The US was seeking expansion of its “counter-terrorism” campaign. This bloody US venture involving the Pentagon and CIA has been under-reported in the West. It’s never classified as a war, partly because it is conducted under political cover from the Yemeni government and presented as mere military co-operation by two countries against their common enemy, al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula (Aqap).

The reality is slightly different. Much of Saleh‘s supposedly anti-Aqap efforts were in fact channelled against revolutionary forces and the political opposition that would assemble in their millions to overthrow him.

In fact, Aqap expansion was unprecedented during Yemen’s revolution – though not because of the revolution itself.

Saleh seems to have made a decision to withdraw troops from much of the country, allowing al-Qaida to launch a sudden drive to acquire territory.

Within a few months Aqap was occupying large areas in the southern governorates. This helped to strengthen Sana’a’s official line that the revolution was simply an act of terrorism. Crushing it could be part of the US “war on terror.”

The revolution persisted despite the many massacres but Saleh‘s plan did allow for increased US military involvement in the country.

Unlike in Egypt, the US in Yemen does not simply buy loyalty with a fixed subsidy and sustain a friendly rapport with the country’s army.

It requires greater control so it can conduct whatever military strategies it deems necessary. But unlike Afghanistan, Yemen is not an occupied country.

So the US has to strike a balance between military firmness and political caution. This explains the leading role it has played in negotiating a safe path for the central government, army and ruling elite – with the cosmetic exception of Saleh himself, though his son retains enormous power – to elude the uncompromising demands of the revolutionaries.

So far, the US has largely succeeded. Part of this success is due to the existing political and territorial fragmentation of Yemen.

Large parts of the north are controlled by the Houthi Shi’ite rebels. Much of the south is in the grip of the Haraki separatists.

Aqap militants have infiltrated the bulk of the country, and the political opposition in the capital lags behind the better organised and much more progressive politics of the streets.

More perhaps than with any of the other countries hit by the great upheavals of 2011, Yemen’s revolution was not treated as an opportunity for real change but as a crisis that needed management.

The GCC-brokered “power transfer initiative” was the supposed road map out of this crisis, but it hasn’t done much except replace Saleh with Hadi and open the National Dialogue Conference, which has been underway since March 18.

All this takes place under the watchful eyes of the “Friends of Yemen,” so that the process leading up to scheduled elections in 2014 needs the blessing of those foreign players with an interest in the country.

It hardly helps that the opposition is almost irrevocably split, with widening differences between the coalition partners in the Joint Meeting Parties. The army’s overthrow of Egyptian president Mohammed Morsi, for example, met with protests from the Islah Party which is considered an ally of Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood, but public celebrations from the other members and the Houthis.

Even if the revolution has yet to reap tangible results, the national mood is unlikely to accept half-baked solutions of the sort the US seeks.

The revolutionaries are still unbowed, the militants are regaining strength and the US intervention and drone war are escalating.

All contribute to burgeoning discontent and anti-US sentiment.

Yemen seems likely to embark on a new struggle. One whose consequences will be too serious for any disingenuous political “transitionists” to manage.

Since July 28, the US has launched nine drone strikes against targets in Yemen, killing at least 3 dozen people. The US carries out operations from bases surrounding Yemen, including installations in Saudi Arabia, Djibouti and the Seychelles. Washington has carried out 79 drone attacks against Yemen since 2002: here.

Did an 8-Year-Old Spy for America? When U.S. allies in Yemen needed help targeting an alleged al-Qaeda operative for an American drone strike, evidence suggests they turned to one of the people closest to him: here.

Yemeni journalist, jailed for drone report, freed


Democracy Now! in the USA writes about this series of two videos:

Yemeni Reporter Who Exposed U.S. Drone Strike Freed from Prison After Jailing at Obama’s Request

Prominent Yemeni journalist Abdulelah Haider Shaye has been released from prison after being held for three years on terrorism-related charges at the request of President Obama. Shaye helped expose the U.S. cruise missile attack on the Yemeni village of al-Majalah that killed 41 people, including 14 women and 21 children in December 2009.

Then-Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh announced his intention to pardon Shaye in 2011, but apparently changed his mind after a phone call from Obama. In a statement, the White House now says it is “concerned and disappointed” by Shaye’s release.

“We should let that statement set in: The White House is saying that they are disappointed and concerned that a Yemeni journalist has been released from a Yemeni prison,” says Jeremy Scahill, national security correspondent for The Nation, who covers Shaye’s case in “Dirty Wars,” his new book and film by the same name. “This is a man who was put in prison because he had the audacity to expose a U.S. cruise missile attack that killed three dozen women and children.”

We’re also joined by Rooj Alwazir, a Yemeni-American activist who co-founded the Support Yemen media collective and campaigned for Shaye’s release.

Transcript

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

Letter to Obama and Hadi on Yemeni drones: here.

US drones have been attacking targets in Yemen almost every day since intensified operations began on July 27: here.

The Drone Gender Gap: Big Differences in How Men and Women View Strikes: here.