Yemen: 68 Killed by US Drones; Judge Orders Release of Awlaki Assassination Memo
April 22, 2014
AntiWar.com & Agence France-Presse & The New York Times
A barrage of US drone strikes across Yemen's south and east entered its third day and shows no signs of slowing down. With so many of the attacks targeting remote villages in the hills of Yemen's rural interior, the death toll is difficult to ascertain, but at least 68 are believed to be dead over the past three days -- including civilians. Meanwhile, a federal judge in New York has ordered the Department of Justice to release its rationale for the drone assassination of US-born cleric Anwar al-Awlaki.
At Least 68 Killed as US
Drone Strikes on Yemen Enter Third Day
Jason Ditz / AntiWar.com
(April 21, 2014) -- A barrage of US drone strikes across Yemen's south and east has entered its third day today, and shows no signs of slowing down, as the latest US attacks targeted the Shabwa Province.
With so many of the attacks occurring against remote villages in the hills of Yemen's rural interior, the death toll is difficult to ascertain, but at least 68 are believed to be dead over the past three days.
Yemeni officials say the strikes are targeting "top leader" of al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), and that they have high hopes they may kill one such leader, but they can't confirm anything of the sort so far.
Indeed, while all of the official statements from Yemen have termed the slain "militants" or at the very least "suspects," not a single person has been identified at all so far officially, and many civilians were confirmed among the slain on Saturday.
Drone Kills Three Qaeda Suspects in Yemen
ADEN (April 21, 2014) -- Three more Al-Qaeda suspects, including an alleged senior militant, were killed Monday in a drone strike in southern Yemen, a local official said.
The attack was the latest in an intensified air campaign that has killed more than 40 suspected Al-Qaeda militants, including 30 on Sunday alone, days after the jihadist network´s Yemen affiliate vowed to fight against Western "crusaders."
The United States is the only country operating drones over Yemen, but US officials rarely acknowledge the covert drone programme.
The Yemeni official, requesting anonymity, said that shortly after midnight (2100 GMT Sunday) a drone fired a missile at an off-road vehicle carrying three men in the southern Shabwa province, seen a stronghold for Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP).Witnesses confirmed that the vehicle had been completely destroyed and said they saw the charred remains of three individuals.
They said an unmarked commando helicopter arrived shortly thereafter to retrieve the bodies. "The operation seems to indicate that one of the dead could be an important leader of Al-Qaeda," one witness told.
Yemen´s interior ministry meanwhile said that 10 people suspected of wanting to join Al-Qaeda had been arrested at a security roadblock in Shabwa.
On Sunday US drones fired "several missiles" into an AQAP training camp in the rugged Wadi Ghadina region in the southern province of Abyan, killing more than 30 militants, a tribal chief said.
A defence ministry statement confirmed that "several" militants were killed in an attack on "training camps."
US Drone Strike Kills 21 in Yemen, Including Civilians
Jason Ditz / AntiWar.com
(April 19, 2014) -- A US drone attacked a highway in Yemen's southeastern Bayda Province, killing at least 21 people, including a number of civilian bystanders, and wounding many more.
The strike targeted a pickup truck carrying 16 people, and was apparently a "signature strike" on the assumption the truck was carrying al-Qaeda. Though none of the slain were identified, reports dubbed all 16 "suspected militants."
The other five slain and six wounded in the strike were in other nearby cars, and there wasn't even a pretext of suspicion about any of them, all labeled civilian bystanders who just happened to be in the line of US fire.
Yemen's government reported the attack as targeting unnamed "senior al-Qaeda fighters," but offered no additional details. It is the seventh US drone strike against Yemen in two months.
US Ordered to Release Memo in Awlaki Killing
Benjamin Weiser / The New York Times
(APRIL 21, 2014) -- A federal appeals panel in Manhattan ordered the release on Monday of key portions of a classified Justice Department memorandum that provided the legal justification for the targeted killing of a United States citizen, Anwar al-Awlaki, who intelligence officials contend had joined Al Qaeda and died in a 2011 drone strike in Yemen.
The unanimous three-judge panel, reversing a lower court decision, said the government had waived its right to keep the analysis secret in light of numerous public statements by administration officials and the Justice Department's release of a "white paper" offering a detailed analysis of why targeted killings were legal.
"Whatever protection the legal analysis might once have had," Judge Jon O. Newman wrote for the panel of the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, "has been lost by virtue of public statements of public officials at the highest levels and official disclosure of the D.O.J. White Paper."
The decision reversed a January 2013 ruling by Judge Colleen McMahon of Federal District Court, who had expressed her own doubts about the legality of the targeted killings program and the secrecy cloaking it, but concluded that the government had not violated the law in refusing to turn over the materials sought in the requests.
Judge McMahon, however, issued her decision about a month before the Justice Department released its "white paper" after it was originally leaked to NBC News; the 16-page, single-spaced document made a detailed legal justification for the killing of Mr. Awlaki, which the appellate panel took into account in its ruling.
The panel also cited public statements by officials like Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. and John O. Brennan, when he was the president's top counterterrorism adviser, discussing the lawfulness of the targeted killing of terrorists.
The panel, which also included Judges Jose A. Cabranes and Rosemary S. Pooler, did agree to a government request to redact certain portions of the legal analysis that it ordered released.
Portions of the panel's opinion were also redacted, with the possibility of restoration later, and the panel explained that it had filed its full opinion under seal, along with a redacted copy of the Justice Department memorandum that had been sought by the plaintiffs.
It was unclear how quickly the legal analysis might be made public; the government could ultimately seek review by the full appeals court or the Supreme Court. A Justice Department spokesman had no comment.
Steven Aftergood, a government secrecy specialist at the Federation of American Scientists, said the ruling was "clearly a rebuff to the administration's secrecy policy."
"What makes it particularly significant is that it applies not just to a single document but to a habitual practice of government officials," he said, "which is to say, 'I'm going to talk about something that's classified, but I'm not going to give you the underlying records.' "
Lawyers for the plaintiffs praised the ruling.
Jameel Jaffer, a lawyer with the American Civil Liberties Union, added: "This is a resounding rejection of the government's effort to use secrecy, and selective disclosure, as a means of manipulating public opinion about the targeted killing program. The government can't pretend that everything about its targeted killing program is a classified secret while senior officials selectively disclose information meant to paint the program in the most favorable light."
Mr. Awlaki, a New Mexico-born cleric who the Obama administration contends had become a senior operative in the Yemen branch of Al Qaeda, was killed in a Sept. 30, 2011, drone attack that also killed Samir Khan, an American citizen who had moved to Yemen from North Carolina, and who administration officials say had not been specifically targeted.
The panel noted that the plaintiffs had not challenged the legality of drone strikes or targeted killings, and it said that the government had not waived secrecy concerning operational details in the memorandum, which it said had been prepared by the Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel, ran 41 pages and was dated July 16, 2010.
Judge Newman wrote that even if the public statements by administration officials, before and after Judge McMahon's opinion was issued, were not themselves "sufficiently detailed to establish waiver of the secrecy of the legal analysis," they established the "context in which the most revealing document," the so-called white paper, "should be evaluated."
The panel's description of the classified Justice Department memorandum is redacted in the public opinion, but the panel also noted that Mr. Holder, before the Senate Judiciary Committee last year, "publicly acknowledged the close relationship" between the "white paper" and previous advice from the Office of Legal Counsel.
Judge Newman added that it was no longer either logical or plausible to maintain that disclosure of the legal analysis would risk disclosing "any aspect" of military plans, intelligence activities, sources and methods or foreign relations.
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