Congress voted on border wall in 2006, Hillary, Schumer, Feinstein voted Yes https://www.senate.gov/legislative/LIS/roll_call_lists/roll_call_vote_cfm.cfm?congress=109&session=2&vote=00262 … Bernie voted no http://clerk.house.gov/evs/2006/roll446.xml …
Obama Killed a 16-Year-Old American in Yemen. Trump Just Killed His 8-Year-Old Sister. January 31, 2017Posted by rogerhollander in Barack Obama, Constitution, Human Rights, Israel, Gaza & Middle East, Trump, Uncategorized, War on Terror.
Tags: aclu, Anwar al-Awlaki, civil liberties, dirty wars, drone missiles, due process, glenn greenwald, jeremy scahill, lee fang, Nasser al-Awlaki., navy seal team 6, obama assassin, presidential assassination, roger hollander, trump assassin, yemen
add a comment
Roger’s note: As we confront the groundwork for massive atrocities being laid in these first days of the neo-Fascist Trump government, perhaps we need to be reminded that a substantial amount of the groundwork had already been put in place, much of it by the Obama administration. That the political classes and the mainstream media have no problem with the president of the United States ordering bombings that kill dozens of civilians, including American citizens, it an abomination. I had read in the New York Times that an American soldier died in these attacks. That was it. No mention of the atrocity described in this article.
In 2010, President Obama directed the CIA to assassinate an American citizen in Yemen, Anwar al-Awlaki, despite the fact that he had never been charged with (let alone convicted of) any crime, and the agency successfully carried out that order a year later with a September 2011 drone strike. While that assassination created widespread debate — the once-again-beloved ACLU sued Obama to restrain him from the assassination on the ground of due process and then, when that suit was dismissed, sued Obama again after the killing was carried out — another drone killing carried out shortly thereafter was perhaps even more significant yet generated relatively little attention.
Two weeks after the killing of Awlaki, a separate CIA drone strike in Yemen killed his 16-year-old American-born son, Abdulrahman, along with the boy’s 17-year-old cousin and several other innocent Yemenis. The U.S. eventually claimed that the boy was not their target but merely “collateral damage.” Abdulrahman’s grief-stricken grandfather, Nasser al-Awlaki, urged the Washington Post “to visit a Facebook memorial page for Abdulrahman,” which explained: “Look at his pictures, his friends, and his hobbies. His Facebook page shows a typical kid.”
Few events pulled the mask off Obama officials like this one. It highlighted how the Obama administration was ravaging Yemen, one of the world’s poorest countries: just weeks after he won the Nobel Prize, Obama used cluster bombs that killed 35 Yemeni women and children. Even Obama-supporting liberal comedians mocked the arguments of the Obama DOJ for why it had the right to execute Americans with no charges: “Due Process Just Means There’s A Process That You Do,” snarked Stephen Colbert. And a firestorm erupted when former Obama press secretary Robert Gibbs offered a sociopathic justification for killing the Colorado-born teenager, apparently blaming him for his own killing by saying he should have “had a more responsible father.”
The U.S. assault on Yemeni civilians not only continued but radically escalated over the next five years through the end of the Obama presidency, as the U.S. and the U.K. armed, supported, and provide crucial assistance to their close ally Saudi Arabia as it devastated Yemen through a criminally reckless bombing campaign. Yemen now faces mass starvation, seemingly exacerbated, deliberately, by the U.S.-U.K.-supported air attacks. Because of the West’s direct responsibility for these atrocities, they have received vanishingly little attention in the responsible countries.
In a hideous symbol of the bipartisan continuity of U.S. barbarism, Nasser al-Awlaki just lost another one of his young grandchildren to U.S. violence. On Sunday, the Navy’s SEAL Team 6, using armed Reaper drones for cover, carried out a commando raid on what it said was a compound harboring officials of al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. A statement issued by President Trump lamented the death of an American service member and several others who were wounded, but made no mention of any civilian deaths. U.S. military officials initially denied any civilian deaths, and (therefore) the CNN report on the raid said nothing about any civilians being killed.
But reports from Yemen quickly surfaced that 30 people were killed, including 10 women and children. Among the dead: the 8-year-old granddaughter of Nasser al-Awlaki, Nawar, who was also the daughter of Anwar Awlaki.
As noted by my colleague Jeremy Scahill — who extensively interviewed the grandparents in Yemen for his book and film on Obama’s “Dirty Wars” — the girl “was shot in the neck and killed,” bleeding to death over the course of two hours. “Why kill children?” the grandfather asked. “This is the new (U.S.) administration — it’s very sad, a big crime.”
The New York Times yesterday reported that military officials had been planning and debating the raid for months under the Obama administration, but Obama officials decided to leave the choice to Trump. The new president personally authorized the attack last week. They claim that the “main target” of the raid “was computer materials inside the house that could contain clues about future terrorist plots.” The paper cited a Yemeni official saying that “at least eight women and seven children, ages 3 to 13, had been killed in the raid,” and that the attack also “severely damaged a school, a health facility and a mosque.”
As my colleague Matthew Cole reported in great detail just weeks ago, Navy SEAL Team 6, for all its public glory, has a long history of “‘revenge ops,’ unjustified killings, mutilations, and other atrocities.” And Trump notoriously vowed during the campaign to target not only terrorists but also their families. All of that demands aggressive, independent inquiries into this operation.
Perhaps most tragic of all is that — just as was true in Iraq — al Qaeda had very little presence in Yemen before the Obama administration began bombing and droning it and killing civilians, thus driving people into the arms of the militant group. As the late, young Yemeni writer Ibrahim Mothana told Congress in 2013:
Drone strikes are causing more and more Yemenis to hate America and join radical militants. … Unfortunately, liberal voices in the United States are largely ignoring, if not condoning, civilian deaths and extrajudicial killings in Yemen.
During George W. Bush’s presidency, the rage would have been tremendous. But today there is little outcry, even though what is happening is in many ways an escalation of Mr. Bush’s policies. …
Defenders of human rights must speak out. America’s counterterrorism policy here is not only making Yemen less safe by strengthening support for AQAP [al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula] but it could also ultimately endanger the United States and the entire world.
This is why it is crucial that — as urgent and valid protests erupt against Trump’s abuses — we not permit recent history to be whitewashed, or long-standing U.S. savagery to be deceitfully depicted as new Trumpian aberrations, or the war on terror framework engendering these new assaults to be forgotten. Some current abuses are unique to Trump, but — as I detailed on Saturday — some are the decades-old byproduct of a mindset and system of war and executive powers that all need uprooting. Obscuring these facts, or allowing those responsible to posture as opponents of all this, is not just misleading but counterproductive: Much of this resides on an odious continuum and did not just appear out of nowhere.
It’s genuinely inspiring to see pervasive rage over the banning of visa holders and refugees from countries like Yemen. But it’s also infuriating that the U.S. continues to massacre Yemeni civilians, both directly and through its tyrannical Saudi partners. That does not become less infuriating — Yemeni civilians are not less dead — because these policies and the war theories in which they are rooted began before the inauguration of Donald Trump. It’s not just Trump but this mentality and framework that need vehement opposition.
Tags: abby zimet, body bag, civilian casualties, drone missiles, drone victims, drones, reprieve, roger hollander, yemen, yemen drones
add a comment
Roger’s note: What will it take to end this barbarism???
Mohammed Al-Qawli, an educational consultant in Yemen, remains haunted by the day in January 2013 he spent hours trying to collect the body parts of his brother Ali, a schoolteacher, and his cousin Salim, a student, both “accidentally” killed in a U.S. drone strike. Now Al-Qawli and human rights group Reprieve are mounting a legal challenge against the U.K government for failing to investigate violations of international law by communications giant British Telecom, which is allegedly facilitating U.S. strikes that have killed perhaps 1,000 Yemenis.
In April, Al-Qawli also launched the National Organization for Drone Victims in memory of his brother to allow “the voices of victims” to be heard and to work to end an ongoing U.S. targeted killing program that has had a “devastating” effect on communities throughout Yemen. While “Ali al-Qawli the schoolteacher has left us,” he notes, “his tremendous legacy of love, passion and hope remains…I hope that the American people (will) stand against the violent actions of their Nobel Peace Prize–winning president and join us in demanding that the U.S. government stop its blind killing of hundreds of innocent people.”
“I’d heard that the United States of America was sending support to Yemen, but for a long time I did not know what that meant. Now I can see it firsthand. I have received U.S. gifts and U.S. aid, wrapped in a body bag. These explosive fragments kill Yemenis, destroy their spirits, burn their bodies and only further empower the militants. The U.S. and Yemeni governments killed a young man who strongly opposed terrorism and tried to bring change through education – the very same things they purport to want themselves. I want to know why.”
Tags: baraa shiban, civilian casualties, counter terrorism, david miranda, drone missiles, reprieve, roger hollander, schedule 7, terrorism act 2000, terrorism law, uk government, yemen, yemen drones
add a comment
I came to Britain to talk about human rights abuses in Yemen, only to be held at Gatwick under schedule 7 of the Terrorism Act
On Monday night I was held and questioned at an airport because of my work investigating western counter-terrorism abuses in Yemen. But this did not happen in Sanaa or at the hands of some tyrannical regime. It happened at Gatwick. British officials interrogated me under the controversial schedule 7 provision of the Terrorism Act 2000 – the same provision recently used to chilling effect to detain David Miranda
Not satisfied with clamping down on attempts to report on blanket surveillance and the “war on terror”, the UK government seems to have branched out to people like me – activists working to uncover and prevent such abuses.
I have visited the UK before without incident. I have long admired British culture – I spent part of my education in Wales. This time I came at the invitation of Chatham House to speak at a seminar on Yemen. Standing at passport control, bleary eyed from the long flight, I expected another routine trip.
The border agent asked what my job is. When I explained I was the Yemen project co-ordinator for London-based legal charity Reprieve he said, “Sir, please come with me. We have a Terrorism Act and I have some questions I need to ask you.”
I was then taken away from the desk and interrogated for over an hour. The suited man quizzed me about my political opinions. When I suggested that these should have no bearing on whether I am allowed into the country, the agent threatened to hold me for the maximum extent of his powers. “I am authorised to detain you for up to nine hours,” he said. “We have only been here for an hour, but we can be here for up to nine. So you understand what this can lead to.”
He took my Reprieve business card and disappeared. When he returned – I would guess having made use of a computer and a popular search engine – he suggested he had detained me not merely because I was from Yemen, but also because of Reprieve’s work investigating and criticising the efficacy of US drone strikes in my country.
A telling exchange followed: “So,” he asked, “does your organisation have anything to do with terrorism in Yemen?”
I replied, “My organisation addresses counter-terrorism abuses inside the country.”
“Exactly!” He said. “Why doesn’t your organisation do something about the terrorism that happens in your country, instead of focusing on the counter-terrorism abuses?”
What could I reply? Of course I oppose terrorism. But I also oppose the secret air war in my country – waged by the US, apparently with covert support from the UK and others. The drone war in my homeland has claimed innocent lives and terrorised civilians. It operates wholly outside the law, and serves only to fuel anti-western sentiment.
These are considered views. I formed them in conversations with dozens of witnesses, victims, and officials across Yemen. I was not about to apologise for them to this interrogator.
He went on, “What if your organisation did something bad [exactly what he did not specify] to your government – what if you are here because of the bad things your organisation has done to your government? The relations between Yemen and the UK are important. I want to know that your organisation is not disrupting them.”
He seemed uninterested in the truth – which is that I have spent months seeking constructive solutions to Yemen’s problems. At home in Yemen I am a member of the National Dialogue – a group established to map out the country’s democratic future. (We’re a bit like a constitutional convention.) Earlier this year, our delegates voted – by an over 90% majority – to ban the extrajudicial killing of Yemeni civilians, by drone or otherwise.
So despite what the interrogator suggested, opposing drones is hardly a fringe view.
More to the point, why should it matter? Criticising counter-terrorism policy in Yemen may irritate or embarrass UK and US governments. But it is not a crime, and it is not proper grounds to detain someone at the border. The British authorities appear to disagree.
Even we in Yemen heard of David Miranda’s nine hours in custody. Then I was stopped. Who will be the next human rights worker caught in the net of schedule 7?
John Brennan vs. a Sixteen-Year-Old Boy January 15, 2013Posted by rogerhollander in Pakistan, War, War on Terror.
Tags: cia director, collateral damage, drone casualties, drone missile, drone strikes, hellfire missile, International law, john brennan, kill list, medea benjamin, obama kill list, pakistan, roger hollander, rule of law, tariq aziz, yemen
add a comment
In October 2011, 16-year-old Tariq Aziz attended a gathering in Islamabad where he was taught how to use a video camera so he could document the drones that were constantly circling over his Pakistani village, terrorizing and killing his family and neighbors. Two days later, when Aziz was driving with his 12-year-old cousin to a village near his home in Waziristan to pick up his aunt, his car was struck by a Hellfire missile. With the push of a button by a pilot at a US base thousands of miles away, both boys were instantly vaporized—only a few chunks of flesh remained.Tariq Aziz (circled) at the Grand Jirga in Islamabad just days before he was killed by a US drone hellfire missile.
Afterwards, the US government refused to acknowledge the boys’ deaths or explain why they were targeted. Why should they? This is a covert program where no one is held accountable for their actions.
The main architect of this drone policy that has killed hundreds, if not thousands, of innocents, including 176 children in Pakistan alone, is President Obama’s counterterrorism chief and his pick for the next director of the CIA: John Brennan.
On my recent trip to Pakistan, I met with people whose loved ones had been blown to bits by drone attacks, people who have been maimed for life, young victims with no hope for the future and aching for revenge. For all of them, there has been no apology, no compensation, not even an acknowledgement of their losses. Nothing.
That’s why when John Brennan spoke at the Woodrow Wilson International Center in Washington DC last April and described our policies as ethical, wise and in compliance with international law, I felt compelled to stand up and speak out on behalf of Tariq Aziz and so many others. As they dragged me out of the room, my parting words were: “I love the rule of law and I love my country. You are making us less safe by killing so many innocent people. Shame on you, John Brennan.”
Rather than expressing remorse for any civilian deaths, John Brennan made the extraordinary statement in 2011 that during the preceding year, there hadn’t been a single collateral death “because of the exceptional proficiency, precision of the capabilities we’ve been able to develop.” Brennan later adjusted his statement somewhat, saying, “Fortunately, for more than a year, due to our discretion and precision, the U.S. government has not found credible evidence of collateral deaths resulting from U.S. counterterrorism operations outside of Afghanistan or Iraq.” We later learned why Brennan’s count was so low: the administration had come up with a semantic solution of simply counting all military-age males in a strike zone as combatants.
The UK-based Bureau of Investigative Journalism has documented over 350 drones strikes in Pakistan that have killed 2,600-3,400 people since 2004. Drone strikes in Yemen have been on the rise, with at least 42 strikes carried out in 2012, including one just hours after President Obama’s reelection. The first strike in 2013 took place just four days into the new year.
A May 29, 2011 New York Times exposé showed John Brennan as President Obama’s top advisor in formulating a “kill list” for drone strikes. The people Brennan recommends for the hit list are given no chance to surrender, and certainly no chance to be tried in a court of law. The kind of intelligence Brennan uses to put people on drone hit lists is the same kind of intelligence that put people in Guantanamo. Remember how the American public was assured that the prisoners locked up in Guantanamo were the “worst of the worst,” only to find out that hundreds were innocent people who had been sold to the US military by bounty hunters?
In addition to kill lists, Brennan pushed for the CIA to have the authority to kill with even greater ease using “signature strikes,” also known as “crowd killing,” which are strikes based solely on suspicious behavior.
When President Obama announced his nomination of John Brennan, he talked about Brennan’s integrity and commitment to the values that define us as Americans. He said Brennan has worked to “embed our efforts in a strong legal framework” and that he “understands we are a nation of laws.”
A nation of laws? Really? Going around the world killing anyone we want, whenever we want, based on secret information? Just think of the precedent John Brennan is setting for a world of lawlessness and chaos, now that 76 countries have drones—mostly surveillance drones but many in the process of weaponizing them. Why shouldn’t China declare an ethnic Uighur activist living in New York City as an “enemy combatant” and send a missile into Manhattan, or Russia launch a drone attack against a Chechen living in London? Or why shouldn’t a relative of a drone victim retaliate against us here at home? It’s not so far-fetched. In 2011, 26-year-old Rezwan Ferdaus, a Massachusetts-based graduate with a degree in physics, was recently sentenced to 17 years in prison for plotting to attack the Pentagon and US Capitol with small drones filled with explosives.
In his search for a new CIA chief, Obama said he looked at who is going to do the best job in securing America. Yet the blowback from Brennan’s drone attacks is creating enemies far faster than we can kill them. Three out of four Pakistanis now see the US as their enemy—that’s about 133 million people, which certainly can’t be good for US security. When Pakistani Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar was asked the source of US enmity, she had a one word answer: drones.
In Yemen, escalating U.S. drones strikes are radicalizing the local population and stirring increasing sympathy for al-Qaeda-linked militants. Since the January 4, 2013 attack in Yemen, militants in the tribal areas have gained more recruits and supporters in their war against the Yemeni government and its key backer, the United States. According to Abduh Rahman Berman, executive director of a Yemeni National Organization for Defending Rights and Freedoms, the drone war is failing. “If the Americans kill 10, al-Qaeda will recruit 100,” he said.
Around the world, the drone program constructed by John Brennan has become a provocative symbol of American hubris, showing contempt for national sovereignty and innocent lives.
If Obama thinks John Brennan is a good choice to head the CIA and secure America, he should contemplate the tragic deaths of victims like 16-year-old Tariq Aziz, and think again.
Medea Benjamin (email@example.com), cofounder of Global Exchange and CODEPINK: Women for Peace, is the author of Drone Warfare: Killing by Remote Control. Her previous books include Don’t Be Afraid Gringo: A Honduran Woman Speaks from the Heart., and (with Jodie Evans) Stop the Next War Now (Inner Ocean Action Guide).
US attack kills 5 Afghan kids May 8, 2012Posted by rogerhollander in Iraq and Afghanistan, Israel, Gaza & Middle East, Media, War.
Tags: Afghanistan, Afghanistan War, civilian casualties, collateral damage, corporate media, drone missiles, drones, glenn greenwald, muslim terrorists, roger hollander, yemen, yemen airstrikes
add a comment
The way in which the U.S. media ignores such events speaks volumes about how we perceive them
Yesterday, I noted several reports from Afghanistan that as many as 20 civilians were killed by two NATO airstrikes, including a mother and her five children. Today, the U.S. confirmed at least some of those claims, acknowledging and apologizing for its responsibility for the death of that family:
The American military claimed responsibility and expressed regret for an airstrike that mistakenly killed six members of a family in southwestern Afghanistan, Afghan and American military officials confirmed Monday.
The attack, which took place Friday night, was first revealed by the governor of Helmand Province, Muhammad Gulab Mangal, on Monday. His spokesman, Dawoud Ahmadi, said that after an investigation they had determined that a family home in the Sangin district had been attacked by mistake in the American airstrike, which was called in to respond to a Taliban attack. . . . The victims were the family’s mother and five of her children, three girls and two boys, according to Afghan officials.
(1) To the extent these type of incidents are discussed at all — and in American establishment media venues, they are most typically ignored — there are certain unbending rules that must be observed in order to retain Seriousness credentials. No matter how many times the U.S. kills innocent people in the world, it never reflects on our national character or that of our leaders. Indeed, none of these incidents convey any meaning at all. They are mere accidents, quasi-acts of nature which contain no moral information (in fact, the NYT article on these civilian deaths, out of nowhere, weirdly mentioned that “in northern Afghanistan, 23 members of a wedding celebration drowned in severe flash flooding” — as though that’s comparable to the U.S.’s dropping bombs on innocent people). We’ve all been trained, like good little soldiers, that the phrase “collateral damage” cleanses and justifies this and washes it all way: yes, it’s quite terrible, but innocent people die in wars; that’s just how it is. It’s all grounded in America’s central religious belief that the country has the right to commit violence anywhere in the world, at any time, for any cause.
At some point — and more than a decade would certainly qualify — the act of continuously killing innocent people, countless children, in the Muslim world most certainly does reflect upon, and even alters, the moral character of a country, especially its leaders. You can’t just spend year after year piling up the corpses of children and credibly insist that it has no bearing on who you are. That’s particularly true when, as is the case in Afghanistan, the cause of the war is so vague as to be virtually unknowable. It’s woefully inadequate to reflexively dismiss every one of these incidents as the regrettable but meaningless by-product of our national prerogative. But to maintain mainstream credibility, that is exactly how one must speak of our national actions even in these most egregious cases. To suggest any moral culpability, or to argue that continuously killing children in a country we’re occupying is morally indefensible, is a self-marginalizing act, whereby one reveals oneself to be a shrill and unSerious critic, probably even a pacifist. Serious commentators, by definition, recognize and accept that this is merely the inevitable outcome of America’s supreme imperial right, note (at most) some passing regret, and then move on.
(2) Yesterday — a week after it leaked that it was escalating its drone strikes in Yemen — the Obama administration claimed that the CIA last month disrupted a scary plot originating in Yemen to explode an American civilian jet “using a more sophisticated version of the underwear bomb deployed unsuccessfully in 2009.” American media outlets — especially its cable news networks — erupted with their predictable mix of obsessive hysteria, excitement and moral outrage. CNN’s Wolf Blitzer last night devoted the bulk of his show to this plot, parading the standard cast of characters — former Bush Homeland Security adviser (and terrorist advocate) Fran Townsend and its “national security analyst” Peter Bergen — to put on their Serious and Concerned faces, recite from the U.S. Government script, and analyze all the profound implications. CNN even hauled out Rep. Peter King to warn that this shows a “new level” of Terror threats from Yemen. CNN’s fixation on this plot continued into this morning.
Needless to say, the fact that the U.S. has spent years and years killing innocent adults and children in that part of the world — including repeatedly in Yemen — was never once mentioned, even though it obviously is a major factor for why at least some people in that country support these kinds of plots. Those facts are not permitted to be heard. Discussions of causation — why would someone want to attack a U.S. airliner? – is an absolute taboo, beyond noting that the people responsible are primitive and hateful religious fanatics. Instead, it is a simple morality play reinforced over and over: Americans are innocently minding their own business — trying to enjoy our Freedoms — and are being disgustingly targeted with horrific violence by these heinous Muslim Terrorists whom we must crush (naturally, the solution to the problem that there is significant anti-American animosity in Yemen is to drop even more bombs on them, which will certainly fix this problem).
Indeed, on the very same day that CNN and the other cable news networks devoted so much coverage to a failed, un-serious attempt to bring violence to the U.S. — one that never moved beyond the early planning stages and “never posed a threat to public safety” — it was revealed that the U.S. just killed multiple civilians, including a family of 5 children, in Afghanistan. But that got no mention. That event simply does not exist in the world of CNN and its viewers (I’d be shocked if it has been mentioned on MSNBC or Fox either). Nascent, failed non-threats directed at the U.S. merit all-hands-on-deck, five-alarm media coverage, but the actual extinguishing of the lives of children by the U.S. is steadfastly ignored (even though the latter is so causally related to the former).
This is the message sent over and over by the U.S. media: we are the victims of heinous, frightening violence; our government must do more, must bomb more, but surveil more, to Keep Us Safe; we do nothing similar to this kind of violence because we are Good and Civilized. This is how our Objective, Viewpoint-Free journalistic outlets continuously propagandize: by fixating on the violence done by others while justifying — or, more often, ignoring — the more far-reaching and substantial violence perpetrated by the U.S.
(3) If one of the relatives of the children just killed in Afghanistan decided to attack the U.S. — or if one of the people involved in this Yemen-originating plot were a relative of one of the dozens of civilians killed by Obama’s 2009 cluster bomb strike — what would they be called by the U.S. media? Terrorists. Primitive, irrational, religious fanatics beyond human decency.
* * * * *
This point cannot be emphasized enough.
The Drone-Happy President: Obama Escalates in Yemen – Again April 26, 2012Posted by rogerhollander in Israel, Gaza & Middle East, War, War on Terror.
Tags: al-Qaeda, civilian casualties, David Petraeus, drone missiles, glenn greenwald, Middle East, Obama, roger hollander, yemen
add a comment
The Drone-Happy President: Obama Escalates in Yemen – Again
Ten days ago, I wrote about a request made by CIA Director David Petraeus to expand the drone war in Yemen in accordance with the following, as expressed by the first paragraph of The Washington Post article reporting it:
At the time, I wrote that “it’s unclear whether Obama will approve Petraeus’ request for the use of ‘signature strikes’ in Yemen,” though that was true only in the most technical sense. It was virtually impossible to imagine that a request from David Petraeus, of all people, to Barack Obama, of all people, for authority to target even more people in Yemen for death, now without even knowing who they are, would be anything but quickly and eagerly approved. And that is exactly what has now happened, as the Post‘s Greg Miller reports today:
The United States has begun launching drone strikes against suspected al-Qaeda operatives in Yemen under new authority approved by President Obama that allows the CIA and the military to fire even when the identity of those who could be killed is not known, U.S. officials said. . . .
The decision to give the CIA and the U.S. Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) greater leeway is almost certain to escalate a drone campaign that has accelerated significantly this year, with at least nine strikes in under four months. The number is about equal to the sum of airstrikes all last year. . . .
Congressional officials have expressed concern that using signature strikes would raise the likelihood of killing militants who are not involved in plots against the United States, angering Yemeni tribes and potentially creating a new crop of al-Qaeda recruits. . .
Gregory Johnsen, a Yemen expert at Princeton University, has questioned . . . the wisdom of the expanded drone operations. . . . ”I would argue that U.S. missile strike[s] are actually one of the major — not the only, but a major — factor in AQAP’s growing strength.”
So here’s yet another war that Obama is escalating, now ordering people’s death with greater degrees of recklessness, now without even bothering to know who is being targeted. Although Miller doesn’t bother to mention the likelihood of more deaths of innocent Yemenis, this is the same policy that has caused large numbers of civilian deaths in Pakistan (just read this heart-wrenching and amazing account of a 16-year-old Pakistani boy, Tariq Aziz, oh-so-coincidentally killed by an American drone, along with his 12-year-old cousin, just days after he attended a meeting to protest civilian deaths by drones). Anonymous officials claim that greater caution will be exercised in Yemen than in Pakistan, a claim Miller uncritically prints, but these types of nameless strikes are certain to kill far more civilians. Indeed, the oh-so-coincidental killing of Anwar Awlaki’s 16-year-old American son in Yemen a mere two weeks after his father was killed proves how easily civilians were already being killed. The problem will only worsen now. As Johnsen pointed out, “in Yemen, just because it has a beard, carries a gun, and talks about Islamic law doesn’t mean its al-Qaeda,” but no matter: that’s who will now be extinguished by Obama’s drone campaign.(Credit: Salon)
Read the full article at Salon.com
Glenn Greenwald was previously a constitutional law and civil rights litigator in New York. He is the author of the New York Times Bestselling book “How Would a Patriot Act?,” a critique of the Bush administration’s use of executive power, released in May 2006. His second book, “A Tragic Legacy“, examines the Bush legacy. His just-released book is titled “With Liberty and Justice for Some: How the Law Is Used to Destroy Equality and Protect the Powerful.” He is the recipient of the first annual I.F. Stone Award for Independent Journalism.
The due-process-free assassination of U.S. citizens is now reality September 30, 2011Posted by rogerhollander in Barack Obama, Civil Liberties, Criminal Justice, War on Terror.
Tags: al-Qaeda, Anwar al-Awlaki, assassination, civil liberties, due process, due process of law, fifth amendment, first amendment, glenn greenwald, president saleh, presidential killing, roger hollander, state secrets, targeted killing, war on terrorr, yemen
add a comment
Friday, Sep 30, 2011 06:31 ET
It was first reported in January of last year that the Obama administration had compiled a hit list of American citizens whom the President had ordered assassinated without any due process, and one of those Americans was Anwar al-awlaki . No effort was made to indict him for any crimes (despite a report last October that the Obama administration was “considering” indicting him). Despite substantial doubt among Yemen experts about whether he even has any operational role in Al Qaeda, no evidence (as opposed to unverified government accusations) was presented of his guilt. When Awlaki’s father sought a court order barring Obama from killing his son, the DOJ argued, among other things, that such decisions were “state secrets” and thus beyond the scrutiny of the courts. He was simply ordered killed by the President: his judge, jury and executioner. When Awlaki’s inclusion on President Obama’s hit list was confirmed, The New York Times noted that “it is extremely rare, if not unprecedented, for an American to be approved for targeted killing.”
After several unsuccessful efforts to assassinate its own citizen, the U.S. succeeded today (and it was the U.S.). It almost certainly was able to find and kill Awlaki with the help of its long-time close friend President Saleh, who took a little time off from murdering his own citizens to help the U.S. murder its. The U.S. thus transformed someone who was, at best, a marginal figure into a martyr, and again showed its true face to the world. The government and media search for The Next bin Laden has undoubtedly already commenced.
What’s most striking about this is not that the U.S. Government has seized and exercised exactly the power the Fifth Amendment was designed to bar (“No person shall be deprived of life without due process of law”), and did so in a way that almost certainly violates core First Amendment protections (questions that will now never be decided in a court of law). What’s most amazing is that its citizens will not merely refrain from objecting, but will stand and cheer the U.S. Government’s new power to assassinate their fellow citizens, far from any battlefield, literally without a shred of due process from the U.S. Government. Many will celebrate the strong, decisive, Tough President’s ability to eradicate the life of Anwar al-Awlaki — including many who just so righteously condemned those Republican audience members as so terribly barbaric and crass for cheering Governor Perry’s execution of scores of serial murderers and rapists — criminals who were at least given a trial and appeals and the other trappings of due process before being killed.
From an authoritarian perspective, that’s the genius of America’s political culture. It not only finds way to obliterate the most basic individual liberties designed to safeguard citizens from consummate abuses of power (such as extinguishing the lives of citizens without due process). It actually gets its citizens to stand up and clap and even celebrate the destruction of those safeguards.
* * * * *
UPDATE: What amazes me most whenever I write about this topic is recalling how terribly upset so many Democrats pretended to be when Bush claimed the power merely to detain or even just eavesdrop on American citizens without due process. Remember all that? Yet now, here’s Obama claiming the power not to detain or eavesdrop on citizens without due process, but to kill them; marvel at how the hardest-core White House loyalists now celebrate this and uncritically accept the same justifying rationale used by Bush/Cheney (this is war! the President says he was a Terrorist!) without even a moment of acknowledgment of the profound inconsistency or the deeply troubling implications of having a President — even Barack Obama — vested with the power to target U.S. citizens for murder with no due process.
Also, during the Bush years, civil libertarians who tried to convince conservatives to oppose that administration’s radical excesses would often ask things like this: would you be comfortable having Hillary Clinton wield the power to spy on your calls or imprison you with no judicial reivew or oversight? So for you good progressives out there justifying this, I would ask this: how would the power to assassinate U.S. citizens without due process look to you in the hands of, say, Rick Perry or Michele Bachmann?
The transformation of Anwar al-Awlaki July 27, 2011Posted by rogerhollander in 9/11, War on Terror.
Tags: Afghanistan War, al-Qaeda, Anwar al-Awlaki, civilian casualties, civilian deaths, drone missiles, glenn greenwald, islam, muslim americans, Muslims, roger hollander, terrorism, umar farouk, war on terror, yemen
add a comment
The Washington Post today has the latest leak-based boasting about how the U.S. is on the verge of “defeating” Al Qaeda, yet — lest you think this can allow a reduction of the National Security State and posture of Endless War on which it feeds — the article warns that “al-Qaeda’s offshoot in Yemen is now seen as a greater counterterrorism challenge than the organization’s traditional base” and that this new threat, as Sen. Saxby Chambliss puts it, “is nowhere near defeat.” Predictably, the Post‘s warnings about the danger from Yemen feature the U.S. Government’s due-process-free attempts to kill U.S. citizen Anwar al-Awlaki, widely believed to be in Yemen and now routinely (and absurdly) depicted as The New Osama bin Laden.
The Post says Awlaki is “known for his fiery sermons” (undoubtedly the prime — and blatantly unconstitutional — motive for his being targeted for killing). But what is so bizarre about Awlaki’s now being cast in this role is that, for years, he was deemed by the very same U.S. Government to be the face of moderate Islam. Indeed, shortly after 9/11, the Pentagon invited Awlaki to a “luncheon  meant to ease tensions with Muslim-Americans.” But even more striking was something I accidentally found today while searching for something else. In November, 2001, the very same Washington Post hosted one of those benign, non-controversial online chats about religion that it likes to organize; this one was intended to discuss “the meaning of Ramadan”. It was hosted by none other than . . . “Imam Anwar Al-Awlaki.”
More extraordinary than the fact that the Post hosted The New Osama bin Laden in such a banal role a mere ten years ago was what Imam Awlaki said during the Q-and-A exchange with readers. He repudiated the 9/11 attackers. He denounced the Taliban for putting women in burqas, explaining that the practice has no precedent in Islam and that “education is mandatory on every Muslim male and female.” He chatted about the “inter-faith services held in our mosque and around the greater DC area and in all over the country” and proclaimed: “We definitely need more mutual understanding.” While explaining his opposition to the war in Afghanistan, he proudly invoked what he thought (mistakenly, as it turns out) was his right of free speech as an American: “Even though this is a dissenting view nowadays[,] as an American I do have the right to have a contrary opinion.” And he announced that “the greatest sin in Islam after associating other gods besides Allah is killing an innocent soul.”
Does that sound like the New Osama bin Laden to you? One could call him the opposite of bin Laden. And yet, a mere nine years later, there was Awlaki, in an Al Jazeera interview, pronouncing his opinion that Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab’s attempt to blow up a civilian jet over Detroit was justified (while saying “it would have been better if the plane was a military one or if it was a US military target”), and urging “revenge for all Muslims across the globe” against the U.S. What changed over the last decade that caused such a profound transformation in Awlaki? Does that question even need to be asked? Awlaki unwittingly provided the answer ten years ago when explaining his opposition to the war in Afghanistan in his 2001 Post chat:
Also our government could have dealt with the terrorist attacks as a crime against America rather than a war against America. So the guilty would be tried and only them would be punished rather than bombing an already destroyed country. I do not restrict myself to US media. I check out Aljazeerah and European media such as the BBC. I am seeing something that you are not seeing because of the one-sidedness of the US media. I see the carnage of Afghanistan. I see the innocent civilian deaths. That is why my opinion is different.
Keep in mind that I have no sympathy for whoever committed the crimes of Sep 11th. But that doesn’t mean that I would approve the killing of my Muslim brothers and sisters in Afghanistan.
And in his Al Jazeera interview nine years later, he explained why he now endorses violence against Americans, especially American military targets:
I support what Umar Farouk has done after I have been seeing my brothers being killed in Palestine for more than 60 years, and others being killed in Iraq and in Afghanistan. And in my tribe too, US missiles have killed 17 women and 23 children, so do not ask me if al-Qaeda has killed or blown up a US civil jet after all this. The 300 Americans are nothing comparing to the thousands of Muslims who have been killed.
A full decade of literally constant (and still-escalating) American killing of civilians in multiple Muslim countries has radically transformed Awlaki — and countless other Muslims — from a voice of pro-American moderation into supporters of violence against the U.S. and, in Awlaki’s case, the prime pretext for the continuation of the War on Terror. As this blogger put it in response to my noting the 2001 Awlaki chat: “it’s interesting to think about how many other people followed that same path, that we don’t know about it.” In other words, the very U.S. policies justified in name of combating Terrorism have done more to spawn — and continue to spawn — anti-American Terrorism than anything bin Laden could have ever conceived. The transformation of Awlaki, and many others like him, provides vivid insight into how that occurs.
* * * * *
It’s equally instructive to note that if the Post were to give Awlaki a venue to express his opinions now — or if the Pentagon were to invite him to a luncheon — those institutions would likely be guilty of the felony of providing material support to Terrorism as applied by the Obama DOJ and upheld by the Supreme Court.
Who Cares in the Middle East What Obama Says? May 30, 2011Posted by rogerhollander in Israel, Gaza & Middle East.
Tags: 1967 borders, algeria, arab revolts, arab revolutions, arab spring, bahrain, bouteflika, egypt, gaza, hamas, intifada, Iran, israel, israeli settlements, jewish state, jordan, kurds, libya, Mahmoud Abbas, Middle East, netanyahu, Obama, Palestine, palestine papers, palestinian statehood, Palestinians, qatar, robert fisk, roger hollander, saudi arabia, Syria, tunisia, turkey, yemen
add a comment
Roger’s note: I don’t think you will find a better commentary on the situation in the Middle East than what follows. Robert Fisk, who has lived in and written about the Middle East for decades, is an amazing journalist, unfortunately a rare breed (at least in North America).
This month, in the Middle East, has seen the unmaking of the President of the United States. More than that, it has witnessed the lowest prestige of America in the region since Roosevelt met King Abdul Aziz on the USS Quincy in the Great Bitter Lake in 1945.President Obama at Middle East peace talks in Washington last year with Benjamin Netanyahu, Mahmoud Abbas, Hosni Mubarak, and King Abdullah. (EPA)
President Obama at Middle East peace talks in Washington last year with Benjamin Netanyahu, Mahmoud Abbas, Hosni Mubarak, and King Abdullah. (EPA)
While Barack Obama and Benjamin Netanyahu played out their farce in Washington – Obama grovelling as usual – the Arabs got on with the serious business of changing their world, demonstrating and fighting and dying for freedoms they have never possessed. Obama waffled on about change in the Middle East – and about America’s new role in the region. It was pathetic. “What is this ‘role’ thing?” an Egyptian friend asked me at the weekend. “Do they still believe we care about what they think?”
And it is true. Obama’s failure to support the Arab revolutions until they were all but over lost the US most of its surviving credit in the region. Obama was silent on the overthrow of Ben Ali, only joined in the chorus of contempt for Mubarak two days before his flight, condemned the Syrian regime – which has killed more of its people than any other dynasty in this Arab “spring”, save for the frightful Gaddafi – but makes it clear that he would be happy to see Assad survive, waves his puny fist at puny Bahrain’s cruelty and remains absolutely, stunningly silent over Saudi Arabia. And he goes on his knees before Israel. Is it any wonder, then, that Arabs are turning their backs on America, not out of fury or anger, nor with threats or violence, but with contempt? It is the Arabs and their fellow Muslims of the Middle East who are themselves now making the decisions.
Turkey is furious with Assad because he twice promised to speak of reform and democratic elections – and then failed to honour his word. The Turkish government has twice flown delegations to Damascus and, according to the Turks, Assad lied to the foreign minister on the second visit, baldly insisting that he would recall his brother Maher’s legions from the streets of Syrian cities. He failed to do so. The torturers continue their work.
Watching the hundreds of refugees pouring from Syria across the northern border of Lebanon, the Turkish government is now so fearful of a repeat of the great mass Iraqi Kurdish refugee tide that overwhelmed their border in the aftermath of the 1991 Gulf war that it has drawn up its own secret plans to prevent the Kurds of Syria moving in their thousands into the Kurdish areas of south-eastern Turkey. Turkish generals have thus prepared an operation that would send several battalions of Turkish troops into Syria itself to carve out a “safe area” for Syrian refugees inside Assad’s caliphate. The Turks are prepared to advance well beyond the Syrian border town of Al Qamishli – perhaps half way to Deir el-Zour (the old desert killing fields of the 1915 Armenian Holocaust, though speak it not) – to provide a “safe haven” for those fleeing the slaughter in Syria’s cities.
The Qataris are meanwhile trying to prevent Algeria from resupplying Gaddafi with tanks and armoured vehicles – this was one of the reasons why the Emir of Qatar, the wisest bird in the Arabian Gulf, visited the Algerian president, Abdelaziz Bouteflika, last week. Qatar is committed to the Libyan rebels in Benghazi; its planes are flying over Libya from Crete and – undisclosed until now – it has Qatari officers advising the rebels inside the city of Misrata in western Libya; but if Algerian armour is indeed being handed over to Gaddafi to replace the material that has been destroyed in air strikes, it would account for the ridiculously slow progress which the Nato campaign is making against Gaddafi.
Of course, it all depends on whether Bouteflika really controls his army – or whether the Algerian “pouvoir”, which includes plenty of secretive and corrupt generals, are doing the deals. Algerian equipment is superior to Gaddafi’s and thus for every tank he loses, Ghaddafi might be getting an improved model to replace it. Below Tunisia, Algeria and Libya share a 750-mile desert frontier, an easy access route for weapons to pass across the border.
But the Qataris are also attracting Assad’s venom. Al Jazeera’s concentration on the Syrian uprising – its graphic images of the dead and wounded far more devastating than anything our soft western television news shows would dare broadcast – has Syrian state television nightly spitting at the Emir and at the state of Qatar. The Syrian government has now suspended up to £4 billion of Qatari investment projects, including one belonging to the Qatar Electricity and Water Company.
Amid all these vast and epic events – Yemen itself may yet prove to be the biggest bloodbath of all, while the number of Syria’s “martyrs” have now exceeded the victims of Mubarak’s death squads five months ago – is it any surprise that the frolics of Messrs Netanyahu and Obama appear so irrelevant? Indeed, Obama’s policy towards the Middle East – whatever it is – sometimes appears so muddled that it is scarcely worthy of study. He supports, of course, democracy – then admits that this may conflict with America’s interests. In that wonderful democracy called Saudi Arabia, the US is now pushing ahead with a £40 billion arms deal and helping the Saudis to develop a new “elite” force to protect the kingdom’s oil and future nuclear sites. Hence Obama’s fear of upsetting Saudi Arabia, two of whose three leading brothers are now so incapacitated that they can no longer make sane decisions – unfortunately, one of these two happens to be King Abdullah – and his willingness to allow the Assad family’s atrocity-prone regime to survive. Of course, the Israelis would far prefer the “stability” of the Syrian dictatorship to continue; better the dark caliphate you know than the hateful Islamists who might emerge from the ruins. But is this argument really good enough for Obama to support when the people of Syria are dying in the streets for the kind of democracy that the US president says he wants to see in the region?
One of the vainest elements of American foreign policy towards the Middle East is the foundational idea that the Arabs are somehow more stupid than the rest of us, certainly than the Israelis, more out of touch with reality than the West, that they don’t understand their own history. Thus they have to be preached at, lectured, and cajoled by La Clinton and her ilk – much as their dictators did and do, father figures guiding their children through life. But Arabs are far more literate than they were a generation ago; millions speak perfect English and can understand all too well the political weakness and irrelevance in the president’s words. Listening to Obama’s 45-minute speech this month – the “kick off’ to four whole days of weasel words and puffery by the man who tried to reach out to the Muslim world in Cairo two years ago, and then did nothing – one might have thought that the American President had initiated the Arab revolts, rather than sat on the sidelines in fear.
There was an interesting linguistic collapse in the president’s language over those critical four days. On Thursday 19 May, he referred to the continuation of Israeli “settlements”. A day later, Netanyahu was lecturing him on “certain demographic changes that have taken place on the ground”. Then when Obama addressed the American Aipac lobby group (American Israel Public Affairs Committee) on the Sunday, he had cravenly adopted Netanyahu’s own preposterous expression. Now he, too, spoke of “new demographic realities on the ground.” Who would believe that he was talking about internationally illegal Jewish colonies built on land stolen from Arabs in one of the biggest property heists in the history of “Palestine”? Delay in peace-making will undermine Israeli security, Obama announced – apparently unaware that Netanyahu’s project is to go on delaying and delaying and delaying until there is no land left for the “viable” Palestinian state which the United States and the European Union supposedly wish to see.
Then we had the endless waffle about the 1967 borders. Netanyahu called them “defenceless” (though they seemed to have been pretty defendable for the 18 years prior to the Six Day War) and Obama – oblivious to the fact that Israel must be the only country in the world to have an eastern land frontier but doesn’t know where it is – then says he was misunderstood when he talked about 1967. It doesn’t matter what he says. George W Bush caved in years ago when he gave Ariel Sharon a letter which stated America’s acceptance of “already existing major Israeli population centres” beyond the 1967 lines. To those Arabs prepared to listen to Obama’s spineless oration, this was a grovel too far. They simply could not understand the reaction of Netanyahu’s address to Congress. How could American politicians rise and applaud Netanyahu 55 times – 55 times – with more enthusiasm than one of the rubber parliaments of Assad, Saleh and the rest?
And what on earth did the Great Speechifier mean when he said that “every country has the right to self-defence” but that Palestine would be “demilitarised”? What he meant was that Israel could go on attacking the Palestinians (as in 2009, for example, when Obama was treacherously silent) while the Palestinians would have to take what was coming to them if they did not behave according to the rules – because they would have no weapons to defend themselves. As for Netanyahu, the Palestinians must choose between unity with Hamas or peace with Israel. All of which was very odd. When there was no unity, Netanyahu told us all that he had no Palestinian interlocutor because the Palestinians were disunited. Yet when they unite, they are disqualified from peace talks.
Of course, cynicism grows the longer you live in the Middle East. I recall, for example, travelling to Gaza in the early 1980s when Yasser Arafat was running his PLO statelet in Beirut. Anxious to destroy Arafat’s prestige in the occupied territories, the Israeli government decided to give its support to an Islamist group in Gaza called Hamas. In fact, I actually saw with my own eyes the head of the Israeli army’s Southern Command negotiating with bearded Hamas officials, giving them permission to build more mosques. It’s only fair to say, of course, that we were also busy at the time, encouraging a certain Osama bin Laden to fight the Soviet army in Afghanistan. But the Israelis did not give up on Hamas. They later held another meeting with the organisation in the West Bank; the story was on the front page of the Jerusalem Post the next day. But there wasn’t a whimper from the Americans.
Then another moment that I can recall over the long years. Hamas and Islamic Jihad members – all Palestinians – were, in the early 1990s, thrown across the Israeli border into southern Lebanon where they spent more than a year camping on a freezing mountainside. I would visit them from time to time and on one occasion mentioned that I would be travelling to Israel next day. Immediately, one of the Hamas men ran to his tent and returned with a notebook. He then proceeded to give me the home telephone numbers of three senior Israeli politicians – two of whom are still prominent today – and, when I reached Jerusalem and called the numbers, they all turned out to be correct. In other words, the Israeli government had been in personal and direct contact with Hamas.
But now the narrative has been twisted out of all recognition. Hamas are the super-terrorists, the “al-Qa’ida” representatives in the unified Palestinian leadership, the men of evil who will ensure that no peace ever takes place between Palestinians and Israeli. If only this were true, the real al-Qa’ida would be more than happy to take responsibility. But it is not true. In the same context, Obama stated that the Palestinians would have to answer questions about Hamas. But why should they? What Obama and Netanyahu think about Hamas is now irrelevant to them. Obama warns the Palestinians not to ask for statehood at the United Nations in September. But why on earth not? If the people of Egypt and Tunisia and Yemen and Libya and Syria – we are all waiting for the next revolution (Jordan? Bahrain again? Morocco?) – can fight for freedom and dignity, why shouldn’t the Palestinians? Lectured for decades on the need for non-violent protest, the Palestinians elect to go to the UN with their cry for legitimacy – only to be slapped down by Obama.
Having read all of the “Palestine Papers” which Al-Jazeera revealed, there is no doubt that “Palestine’s” official negotiators will go to any lengths to produce some kind of statelet. Mahmoud Abbas, who managed to write a 600-page book on the “peace process” without once mentioning the word “occupation”, could even cave in over the UN project, fearful of Obama’s warning that it would be an attempt to “isolate” Israel and thus de-legitimise the Israeli state – or “the Jewish state” as the US president now calls it. But Netanyahu is doing more than anyone to delegitimise his own state; indeed, he is looking more and more like the Arab buffoons who have hitherto littered the Middle East. Mubarak saw a “foreign hand” in the Egyptian revolution (Iran, of course). So did the Crown Prince of Bahrain (Iran again). So did Gaddafi (al-Qa’ida, western imperialism, you name it), So did Saleh of Yemen (al-Qa’ida, Mossad and America). So did Assad of Syria (Islamism, probably Mossad, etc). And so does Netanyahu (Iran, naturally enough, Syria, Lebanon, just about anyone you can think of except for Israel itself).
But as this nonsense continues, so the tectonic plates shudder. I doubt very much if the Palestinians will remain silent. If there’s an “intifada” in Syria, why not a Third Intifada in “Palestine”? Not a struggle of suicide bombers but of mass, million-strong protests. If the Israelis have to shoot down a mere few hundred demonstrators who tried – and in some cases succeeded – in crossing the Israeli border almost two weeks ago, what will they do if confronted by thousands or a million. Obama says no Palestinian state must be declared at the UN. But why not? Who cares in the Middle East what Obama says? Not even, it seems, the Israelis. The Arab spring will soon become a hot summer and there will be an Arab autumn, too. By then, the Middle East may have changed forever. What America says will matter nothing.
Women Rise to the Challenge in the Arab Spring May 27, 2011Posted by rogerhollander in Africa, Israel, Gaza & Middle East, Women.
Tags: abi abdullah saleh, arab spring, arab women, egypt, egyptian women, feminism, islam, islamic law, libya, michelle chen, revolution, roger hollander, selah, tahrir square, tunisia, women's rights, yemen
add a comment
The scene would have had most Americans readjusting their television sets—or their preconceived notions about Arab society. In the April sun, throngs of protesters washed over the streets of the southern Yemeni city Taiz, most clad head-to-toe in black, their eyes steely with determination. The crowd was festooned with bright baseball caps and signs bearing English slogans such as, “We want a new Yemen without Saleh” in seeming defiance both of the autocratic regime and of society’s expectations.
It was only a few months ago that demonstrations exploded across the Maghreb and the Middle East. If you trace the sweep of the revolutionary contagion, a trendline emerges: The seedbed of the revolt, Tunisia, may have lacked democracy but was fairly advanced in providing equal rights for women. The next domino to fall, Egypt, could not have toppled dictator Hosni Mubarak without the support of women activists who took the helm at Tahrir Square. And now Yemen, a relatively conservative and impoverished country, has seen women gathering in a groundswell of resistance–paralleled by increasingly tense uprisings in Syria and Libya.
The BBC recently reported on one of the figureheads of the Yemeni uprising, Tawakul Karman, a former stay-at-home mother whose political passion was galvanized when her husband became a political prisoner:
In the last three months, Mrs Karman has been imprisoned, beaten and humiliated in the state media. As a result, she is a household name in Yemen and an inspiration to many women here. ‘This goes beyond the wildest dream I have ever dreamt,’ she says. ‘I am so proud of our women.’
With Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh’s regime on the brink of implosion, women’s role in the revolution is coming to the forefront, as Karman and other women become fixtures at the demonstrations in Sana’a‘s Change Square. The outrage flared after Saleh denounced women protesters as violating Islamic law. The attempt at intimidation backfired: One activist told the BBC, “Ali Abdullah Saleh turned me into a stronger woman.”
The outpouring of social and economic frustration has subverted gender hierarchies and stereotypes both in the political establishment and in the opposition. While Yemen’s Western-backed authoritarian regime faces rising public wrath, the opposition Islamist party Islah may actually offer women a greater voice.
According to news reports, Islah activists may not see women’s rights on their main agenda, but they’re keen on engaging women, at least for pragmatic reasons. As anti-government protesters start to envision life after Saleh, each woman will ultimately count as one vote in future elections.
Yet the rising profile of female revolutionaries remains shadowed by the gendered burdens of authoritarian oppression. Terrorized women and children form the bulk of the refugee tide spilling out of Syria over the border to Lebanon in order to escape the crackdown on the roiling uprisings. In Libya, civil war has reportedly spawned an epidemic of rape as a military weapon.
Back in Egypt, the solidarity of the January 25 uprising, which for a moment united people across lines of class, religion and gender, now appears to be ebbing into sectarian and socioeconomic strife. The protests continue, sometimes spilling blood on the streets. Egypt’s struggle for gender justice has followed a similarly precarious trajectory. Although many women activists became icons of the youth-driven revolutionary movement, military rule now threatens to rollback their gains. According to political analyst Valerie M. Hudson, recent stirrings in parliament could effectively squelch women’s participation in government:
Reacting to these reports, women’s organizations in Egypt have called for the quota to either be maintained, or for a 3-3-4 party list system to be instituted. In that system, a woman candidate must figure among the first three listed candidates, among the second three listed candidates and then among the next four listed candidates. As Noha El Khoury of the [Egyptian Center for Women’s Rights] has written with great concern, the status of Egyptian women ‘is not getting better’ after the revolution.
The complex symbolism of women in protest movements is nothing new, not even in the Middle East, as seen in the martyrdom of “Neda” in the Iranian uprising of 2009. But today, some activists in the region fear women risk being co-opted by reactionary agendas. The Egyptian Center for Women’s Rights sharply criticized a recent clash between Muslims and Christians at a march that had been billed as a rally against sectarian strife. In a statement [PDF] issued earlier this month, the group said, “The incidents that happened between Muslims and Christians are a clear attempt to abort the 25th of January revolution through the use of women to fuel strife.”
After the overthrow of Mubarak, as Ms. reported earlier, women demanded social and cultural revolution in addition to political change. The reaction was telling: Many felt anxious or threatened by feminist rebellion in the still-fragile democracy. Cairo-based activist Jumanah Younis recalled attacks on women at a Tahrir Square demonstration in March:
As I struggled to stay upright, a hand grabbed my behind and others pulled at my clothes. When, a few minutes later, I found the other women I was with, one told me that a man had put his hand down her top, while another woman had been pushed to the ground and held down by a man on top of her. The police continued to direct traffic around the square as the incident was taking place.
Such outrageous displays of contempt for women cannot be allowed to persist in the new Egypt. Time and time again so-called “women’s issues” have been relegated to the bottom of the agenda: We must end corruption first, we must have political freedom first, etc., etc. On Tuesday, Egyptian women said: ‘Now is the time.’ There is no freedom for men without freedom and equality for women.
The Arab Spring has raised a beacon of democratic change and shattered walls of fear in a region long dominated by tyrants or foreign powers. But the scope of the struggle also complicates the dialogue about gender, social justice and democracy in the communities that are being rapidly reborn. In a climate of militant protest, however principled, warped notions of nationalism and masculine valor tend to surface, and can easily dissolve into violence and chauvinism.
The history is still being written. Back in Tunisia, subtle gender dimensions continue to unfold from the scene that spawned the Arab Spring, the self-immolation of a young street vendor. The common narrative suggested Mohamed Bouazizi had been slapped and humiliated by a female police officer, Fadia Hamdi. But this framing of the events—the indignity suffered by the emasculated jobless youth versus the arrogant aggression of the police woman—has come undone. The legal case was dropped and Hamdi’s name effectively cleared in the media. In the end, the woman held responsible for sparking nationwide revolt was greeted with cheers outside the courtroom hailing her freedom, according to press reports. No longer pressing the case, Bouazizi’s mother reportedly declared, “For me, it is enough that Mohamed’s martyrdom has resulted in freedom and the fall of tyrants.” So it goes with the mercurial politics of revolution.
Women’s voices have carried far and wide on the Arab Spring’s winds of revolution, fading in and out as in the tumult still churning throughout the region. But no matter where women march from here, there’s a recognition that no matter what, there’s no going back to the way things were.