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article imageOp-Ed: Report shows Yemen drone strike likely broke guidelines

By Ken Hanly     Feb 25, 2014 in World
Sanaa - Human Rights Watch issued a 28-page report investigating the attack in December 2013 on a wedding procession in Yemen. The attack killed at least 12 men and wounded at least 15 others including the bride.
The Human Rights Watch(HRW) report is titled: “A Wedding That Became a Funeral: US Drone Attack on Marriage Procession in Yemen.” Although US and Yemeni officials claim the dead were all members of the Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), witnesses and relatives of those killed told HRW those killed were actually civilians. The report asks the US government to investigate the attack and publish its findings. In a major speech last May Obama claimed the US drone strike guidelines requires "near-certainty" that no civilians will be harmed in the strikes.
This position was echoed by spokesperson for White House National Security Staff Caitlin Hayden who said: " Before we take any counterterrorism strike outside areas of active hostilities, there must be near-certainty that no civilians will be killed or injured – the highest standard we can set, And when we believe that civilians may have been killed, we investigate thoroughly.”
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.The entire HRW report can be read here.
The author of the report Letta Tayler a senior researcher at Human Rights Watch was unable to get answers to even basic questions: "We asked both the Yemeni and the U.S. authorities to tell us which of the dead and wounded were members of militant groups and which if any were civilians, They did not reply to this question."
The report does not rule out that some of those killed were Al Qaeda fighters, but Tayler claims that the refusal of the US to explain the attack on what was clearly a wedding convoy brings into question its avowed policy guidelines. Human Rights Watch does not seem to be aware that since Obama's speech the drone guidelines have actually been broadened rather than restricted. A report by Public Intelligence claims: The Pentagon has loosened its guidelines on avoiding civilian casualties during drone strikes, modifying instructions from requiring military personnel to “ensure” civilians are not targeted to encouraging service members to “avoid targeting” civilians.
In addition, instructions now tell commanders that collateral damage “must not be excessive” in relation to mission goals.
While anonymous Yemeni officials say that the target was on Yemen's most wanted terrorist list, he along with several others were reported by some as having fled the truck before the strike although he was wounded. The U.S. has not officially acknowledged the strike, although it says it is investigating reports about it. Four Hellfire missiles struck a procession of 11 vehicles transporting the married couple to the groom's village nearby outside the central city of Rad'a. The attack destroyed a pickup truck and damaged vehicles nearby.
Witnesses and relatives told HRW that no members of AQAP were in the procession. They provided HRW with names and information about all those killed and wounded. The groom's adult son was among those killed. The bride received superficial facial injuries. Local authorities including the governor and a military commander said the casualties were a "mistake." The government authorized the governor to offer compensation equivalent to about $110,000 in cash and 101 Kalishnikov rifles to the tribal leaders of the village
While Yemeni security agents continue to maintain that it was militants who were killed in the strike, Tayler argues that the actions of local authorities in compensating relatives of victims shows that at least some were civilians and this also is consistent with accounts of witnesses.
Baraa Shiban, a human rights activist, interviewed villagers just two days after the strike. Shiban said that there was no sign that the alleged target Badani, a member of AQAP, had been anywhere near the village. Badari is from another region of Yemen and a stranger to the area so it was unlikely he would have been invited to the wedding. Shiban said: “There was clearly a wedding party,” He believes U.S. officials may have been fed the wrong intelligence: "They saw a group of people waiting in trucks for a convoy and they assumed they were militants, so they made the decision to strike.” Whatever the truth about what happened, the U.S. and Yemeni authorities have been loathe to share any information they might have or to seriously investigate the issue and provide others with their evidence. As it stands, HRW is correct that U.S. guidelines seem to have been violated.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of DigitalJournal.com
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