Posted by on May 22, 2012 in Blog

Last week on NPR’s Fresh Air, Terry Gross interviewed investigative reporter Jeremy Scahill about the ongoing U.S. counterterrorism operation in Yemen. It was a detailed and revealing look into the dangers and contradictions of the Obama administration’s ever-widening “overseas contingency operations,” and the unforeseen effects of the drone war.

The interview touches on many important aspects of our foreign policy, and the ways in which they all interact in Yemen, a fragile state undergoing its own “Arab Spring” upheavals while also being host to a highly active Al-Qaeda offshoot known as Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP).

Despite the relatively successful intelligence operations that have taken place in Yemen, including the now-infamous infiltration of the “underwear bomber” cell, Scahill warns that “the United States actually has a pretty weak intelligence presence on the ground when it comes to human intelligence.” Because the U.S. has largely “outsourced its intelligence operations in Yemen to Saudi Arabia and Yemen’s security forces,” these forces tend to “manipulate events regarding al-Qaida with Yemen” for their own gains.

Scahill describes an instance in which “Ali Abdullah Saleh, the former president of Yemen, fed the United States bad intel, telling the U.S. that there's an al-Qaida group meeting in a particular area, and they killed an important tribal leader who happened to be an opponent of the regime.”

He also explores the way this support helps bolster an otherwise untenable regime, by providing it with funding, weaponry, and legitimacy. He describes the process by which the “forces that the U.S. built up…ended up not fighting terrorism but actually defending the failing regime of Ali Abdullah Saleh.”

These actions not only maintain a destabilizing political environment, but also engender anger and distrust toward the United States. Scahill describes several incidents where Yemeni intelligence led to U.S. strikes against civilian targets, including a cruise missile attack that killed 46 people (including five pregnant women). He recounts a telling conversation he had with a Yemeni tribal leader, who asks him, “How is it that I can go and see Wuhayshi, the leader of AQAP, sitting in a restaurant in Shabwah Province, and no one drone-strikes him, but you hit a village full of Bedouins that had nothing to do with al-Qaida?”

Beyond the implications of these operations on the Yemeni people, the policies have serious consequences at home as well, given the Obama administration’s willingness to utilize targeted assassinations against American citizens. Scahill delves into the problems surrounding the killing of American-born Anwar al-Awlaki, along with two other U.S. citizens who were killed in similar strikes. After describing the mysterious process by which the National Security Council chooses potential targets without recourse to any due process, he warns that “it’s deeply troubling that we don’t know how American citizens end up on what are essentially hit lists. And it raises constitutional questions, it raises moral questions.”

It’s a fantastic interview that sheds a lot of light on many serious questions about our overseas military operations. You can listen to the whole segment here.

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