Nation Books author Jeremy Scahill's important new story on Yemen in The Nation this week lifts the veil off of America's secret war there — and brings to light the hypocrisies of US intervention in the Middle East since widespread pro-democracy protests began earlier this year. According to the story (available here) the United States has conducted numerous unilateral military strikes in Yemen since 9/11. The rationale for these secret offensives is the eradication of Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula; a sect of the terror group based in Yemen that Defense Secretary Robert Gates said last week is "perhaps the most dangerous of all franchises of Al Qaeda." But, as Scahill points out, US actions in Yemen may be causing more harm than good to our counterrorism aims.
In December of last year Wikileaks cables revealed that the United States had acquired "unfettered access to Yemen's national territory for...counterterrorism operations." Scahill, reporting for The Nation, wrote that the cables confirmed that America's clandestine actions in the country — including a bloody bombing in December 2009 that killed forty-one people — occurred with the full knowledge and cooperation of President Ali Abdullah Saleh. Indeed the United States has allied closely with Saleh, continuing to support his regime in exchange for free military reign in the country, even as Yemeni government forces have turned on civilians protesting Saleh's authoritarian rule. It is estimated that the US-backed government has killed more than one hundred pro-democracy protesters in the country since civil unrest began earlier this year. The repression has been so brutal that numerous military and government officials have thrown their support behind the opposition. The starkest example came on March 21, when General Ali Muhsin al-Ahmar, one of the highest commanders in the Yemeni military declared his "peaceful support of the youth revolution and their demands."
While the United States has remained mum on the targeting of civilian protesters in Yemen, President Obama took to the airwaves this week to address America's involvement in Libya. His oratory recalled our nation's storied war of independence, and emphasized America's moral imperative to defend citizens seeking freedom from tyranny:
I believe...we must stand alongside those who believe in the same core principles that have guided us through many storms: our opposition to violence directed at one's own people; our support for a set of universal rights, including the freedom for people to express themselves and choose their leaders; our support for governments that are ultimately responsive to the aspirations of the people.
So we do oppose governments that use violence against their own people. Just maybe not in Yemen. Scahill appeared on Real Time with Bill Maher last week and Democracy Now! this morning to discuss this contradiction:
First of all, the protests or the insurrection against Saleh have been overwhelmingly nonviolent, and the Saleh regime, a day before the United States began bombing Libya, had gunned down more than 50 nonviolent protesters in the capital Sana'a, some of them shot by snipers to the head. And Secretary Gates, when asked about the bloodshed in Yemen, said that he didn't think it was appropriate to comment on the internal affairs of Yemen. I mean, the United States has been doing a lot of commenting on the internal affairs of countries around the world since these uprisings began.
All the realpolitik getting you down? Check out New York magazine's analysis for a reminder of what the "why we're at war" rationales from American presidents looked like.