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The President Can Bomb a Wedding, Kill Civilians -- Laws Be Damned


February 21, 2014
John Glaser / AntiWar.com & Letta Tayler / Human Rights Watch

The US refusal to explain a deadly attack on a marriage procession raises critical questions about the administration's compliance with its own targeted killing policy. In its investigation of a December 2013 drone strike in which four Hellfire missiles struck a wedding procession in Yemen, killing 12 and injuring 15, Human Rights Watch says the Obama administration appears to have violated its own self-imposed rules, which the president referenced in a speech in May.

http://antiwar.com/blog/2014/02/20/the-president-can-bomb-a-wedding-kill-civilians-laws-be-damned/

(February 20, 2014) -- In the Obama administration's drone war, there are two sets of laws. First, there is constitutional and international law, which the United States and he, as president, is obliged to follow. Then there are much broader, mostly secret bureaucratic rules and unorthodox interpretations of the first set of laws.

Often times, the administration will violate or supersede the first set of laws. Unless you intend to completely marginalize yourself from mainstream politics, you don't dare suggest that these criminal violations be prosecuted. Instead, "serious people" are supposed to understand that the administration is following its own set of rules.

But what happens when the second set of laws is violated? Then are we allowed by polite company to demand accountability and prosecution?

In its investigation of a December drone strike in which four Hellfire missiles struck a wedding procession in Yemen, killing 12 and injuring 15, Human Rights Watch says the Obama administration appears to have violated its own self-imposed rules, which the president referenced in a speech in May.

A deadly US drone strike on a December 2013 wedding procession in Yemen raises serious concerns about US forces' compliance with President Barack Obama's targeted killing policy, Human Rights Watch said in a report released today.

The 28-page report, "A Wedding That Became a Funeral: US Drone Attack on Marriage Procession in Yemen," calls on the US government to investigate the strike, publish its findings, and act in the event of wrongdoing.

The December 12 attack killed 12 men and wounded at least 15 other people, including the bride. US and Yemeni officials said the dead were members of the armed group Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), but witnesses and relatives told Human Rights Watch the casualties were civilians. Obama said in a major address in May that US policy requires "near-certainty" that no civilians will be harmed in targeted attacks.

"The US refusal to explain a deadly attack on a marriage procession raises critical questions about the administration's compliance with its own targeted killing policy," said Letta Tayler, senior terrorism and counterterrorism researcher at Human Rights Watch and author of the report. "All Yemenis, especially the families of the dead and wounded, deserve to know why this wedding procession became a funeral."

According to Obama's own explanation of his policy, there has to be "near-certainty" that the target is present and that no civilians will be killed, that it preempts a "continuing and imminent" threat to the US, and that the target cannot feasibly be arrested. Not only has the administration failed to show that these criteria were met, it has refused to even acknowledge the strike took place.

Obviously, the first set of laws seem also to have been violated: "The attack on the wedding procession also may have violated the laws of war by failing to discriminate between combatants and civilians, or by causing civilian loss disproportionate to the expected military advantage."

Notice that there isn't even the slightest pretension of the rule of law in America. Hardly anybody, aside from human rights organizations that get no play in the big media outlets, is calling for prosecutions or even investigations. In practice -- and even in theory -- laws simply do not apply to the executive branch.



US: Yemen Drone Strike May Violate Obama Policy
Investigate Fatal Attack on Wedding Convoy

Letta Tayler, Senior Emergencies Researcher / Human Rights Watch

NEW YORK (February 20, 2014) -- A deadly US drone strike on a December 2013 wedding procession in Yemen raises serious concerns about US forces' compliance with President Barack Obama's targeted killing policy, Human Rights Watch said in a report released today.

The 28-page report, "A Wedding That Became a Funeral: US Drone Attack on Marriage Procession in Yemen," calls on the US government to investigate the strike, publish its findings, and act in the event of wrongdoing. The December 12 attack killed 12 men and wounded at least 15 other people, including the bride.

US and Yemeni officials said the dead were members of the armed group Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), but witnesses and relatives told Human Rights Watch the casualties were civilians. Obama said in a major address in May that US policy requires "near-certainty" that no civilians will be harmed in targeted attacks.

"The US refusal to explain a deadly attack on a marriage procession raises critical questions about the administration's compliance with its own targeted killing policy," said Letta Tayler, senior terrorism and counterterrorism researcher at Human Rights Watch and author of the report. "All Yemenis, especially the families of the dead and wounded, deserve to know why this wedding procession became a funeral."

Four Hellfire missiles struck an 11-vehicle procession transporting the newlyweds to the groom's village outside the central Yemeni city of Rad'a, destroying a pickup truck and damaging nearby vehicles.

Witnesses and a Yemeni government source said three or four men fled the truck before it was struck. US and Yemeni officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the target was on Yemen's "most-wanted terrorist" list and was wounded but escaped. A Yemeni government official said that another man who fled was also on Yemen's "most-wanted terrorist" list.

The US has not officially acknowledged the strike. Neither the US nor Yemen has offered specific information, such as drone video footage, to support their assertions about the circumstances or the targets.

Witnesses and relatives told Human Rights Watch that no members of AQAP were in the procession and provided names and other information about those killed and wounded. They said the dead included the groom's adult son and the bride received superficial face wounds.

The local governor and military commander called the casualties a "mistake" and gave money and assault rifles to the families of those killed and wounded -- a traditional gesture of apology in Yemen.

"The actions of local authorities, coupled with accounts of witnesses, suggest that at least some of those killed and wounded were civilians," Tayler said. "If the procession included members of Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, the United States needs to explain who they were and why they were lawful targets."

In his May announcement on targeted killings, Obama also said US policy required "near-certainty" that the target is present, poses a "continuing and imminent" threat to the US, and could not feasibly be arrested. Human Rights Watch said the US has not shown that the attack met these criteria.

The attack on the wedding procession also may have violated the laws of war by failing to discriminate between combatants and civilians, or by causing civilian loss disproportionate to the expected military advantage. The US should investigate and publish its findings on any laws-of-war violations.

Had members of AQAP deliberately joined the wedding procession to avoid attack, they would have been committing the laws-of-war violation of using "human shields." That would not, however, justify an indiscriminate or disproportionate attack by US forces.

"Rather than instilling confidence that its targeted killings are lawful and adhere to US policy, the Obama administration's silence is magnifying concerns," Tayler said. "The US failure to address any harm to civilians also risks turning Yemeni allies into enemies."

Posted in accordance with Title 17, Section 107, US Code, for noncommercial, educational purposes.

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