Drone War ‘Terrorizes’ Yemenis, Expert Tells Senate Committee

'Orwellian' is an apt description of the Obama administration's targeted killing program, says Georgetown law professor

by John Glaser, April 23, 2013

The Obama administration’s drone war in Yemen “terrorizes” the local population, kills civilians regularly, and helps al-Qaeda recruit new members by sowing anti-American sentiment, according to testimony from a Yemeni activist in a Senate hearing on Tuesday.

Screen Shot 2013-04-23 at 6.26.53 PM“Just six days ago, my village was struck by a drone, in an attack that terrified thousands of simple, poor farmers,” Farea Al-Muslimi told the Senate Judiciary Committee in a hearing on the legality of the drone war. “The drone strike and its impact tore my heart, much as the tragic bombings in Boston last week tore your hearts and also mine.”

“What radicals had previously failed to achieve in my village,” al-Muslimi said, “one drone strike accomplished in an instant: there is now an intense anger and growing hatred of America,” adding that he has “seen Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula use US strikes to promote its agenda and try to recruit more terrorists.”

Rosa Brooks, Professor of Law at Georgetown University Law Center, told the Senate that the Obama administration’s drone war undermines the rule of law.

“When a government claims for itself the unreviewable power to kill anyone, anywhere on earth, at any time, based on secret criteria and secret information discussed in a secret process by largely unnamed individuals, it undermines the rule of law,” Brooks said.

Brooks also cited the Justice Department’s leaked memo on targeted killings, reminding the committee that the Obama administration’s novel conception of an “imminent” threat of attack – a required stipulation for the use of force abroad – “seems, in itself, like a substantial departure from accepted international law definitions of imminence. ”

The leaked legal memo refers to what it calls a “broader concept of imminence” than what has traditionally been required, like actual intelligence of an ongoing plot against the US.

“The condition that an operational leader present an ‘imminent’ threat of violent attack against the United States does not require the United States to have clear evidence that a specific attack on U.S. persons and interests will take place in the immediate future,” the memo states.

“That concept of imminence has been called Orwellian, and although that is an overused epithet, in this context it seems fairly appropriate,” Brooks said.

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