The Yemen job: a licence to commit extra-judicial executions

OK, it’s not a surprise that countries have “hit lists” (not music charts) and that their intelligence services bump people off, as the deceptively cosy phrase has it.

But what to make of the US giving a special media briefing to inform the world that they’ve got the Yemen-based American Muslim preacher Anwar al-Awlaki in their sights? Playing to the gallery? Indulging in a Bush-like moment of “gunslinger” tough-guy behaviour? God knows. It’s bizarre. And it’s disturbing if you care about human rights.

I’ve sounded off before about Israel and extra-judicial killings with the Dubai hotel murder of the Hamas man Mahmoud al-Mabhouh. To put it simply: having your security services acting as Jason Bourne-like roving killers – global assassins – is wrong if you’re the United States, wrong if you’re Israel or Russia (think Alexander Litvinenko) and wrong if you’re Iran, Syria, China or anyone else.

Maybe I’m misunderstanding something, but I thought the security services were supposed to make a country and its people safe, not spread fear and instability through so-called targeted assassinations.

So what next on the Yemen job? Presumably we can expect some combination of attack from the air (maybe drones, possibly a “precision” helicopter team) and special-ops stuff from ground forces. How reassuring is that? Given the US’s much-criticised record of killing bystanders in Pakistan and Afghanistan – not very. The same goes for the helicopter attack route – especially if they’re anything like the crew in the now infamous “WikiLeaks” 2007 Baghdad square operation.

Just this week Amnesty released new photos showing scenes of destruction wrought on an already poor area of northern Yemen by the Yemini government’s “Scorched Earth” military operation. Said to be targeting armed supporters of a Shia cleric called Hussain Badr al-Din al-Huthi (now dead), it’s actually led to massive destruction of homes, shops and mosques and dozens of civilian deaths. Saudi planes have also been involved and, according to one piece of graffiti (pictured) adorning a blasted building, "This destruction is caused by US and Saudi Arabian planes".

Politicians don’t use the phrase anymore, but with the “contract” out on Anwar al-Awlaki we’re back in “war on terror” territory. The entire planet is being treated as a war zone.

It’s fair enough for the USA to seek Al-Awlaki in relation to his alleged involvement in the Fort Hood killings and the attempted Christmas Day Detroit plane bombing. But maybe – just maybe – they can try to arrest him. Isn’t that what international cooperation and indeed international justice is supposed to be all about?

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Our blogs are written by Amnesty International staff, volunteers and other interested individuals, to encourage debate around human rights issues. They do not necessarily represent the views of Amnesty International.
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