On Monday Yemen’s interim president Mansour Abdo Hadi named several judges to the Supreme Commission on Elections and Referendum (SCER). The SCER is responsible for the technical aspects of elections and has a pivotal role in maintaining or subverting the integrity of elections.
In a meeting that included UN envoy Jamal ben Omar, President Hadi selected “honest and competent” judges, the state news agency SABA reported.
The SCER will oversee Yemen’s next presidential election, scheduled for 2014.
The question of electoral reforms has been the subject of heated dispute among Yemen’s political parties since at least 2003 when parliamentary elections were last held.
Yemen’s ruling party, the General People’s Congress party (GPC) systematically rejected electoral reforms that would diminish its stranglehold on political power, the Parliament and other state apparatus. As a result the GPC and the opposition party alliance, the Joint Meeting Parties (JMP) have been politically deadlocked for years on the question of the SCER and other reforms.
It was Parliament’s inability to implement needed electoral reforms that gave rise to the perceived illegitimacy of government and mass demonstrations in 2011 and led in part ultimately the overthrow of Ali Abdullah Saleh, president since 1978, and head of the GPC.
In the run up to the 2006 presidential election, the opposition JMP suggested the SCER be split equally between GPC and JMP loyalists instead of selected by the President. The partisan division of the SCER was a method deployed following 1990’s unity of North and South Yemen. In a compromise, two additional members from the opposition were appointed to the SCER.
Saleh’s 2006 re-election was characterized by wide ranging irregularities. Saleh’s ruling GPC party signed an agreement to implement a range of electoral reforms if the JMP dropped its claims of electoral fraud. The GPC wanted to cement a veneer of legitimacy on Saleh. The JMP refocused on the 2009 parliamentary election and its goal of a proportional representation system.
The JMP advocated adopting the proportional or list method. The “first past the post” method in place gives advantage to the ruling GPC and established parties in general. In 2003’s parliamentary election, the GPC received 58 per cent of the vote and 238 seats. Candidates of JMP member party, Islah, won 22 per cent of the vote but only 46 seats. The GPC’s parliamentary seats increased from 123 in 1993, to 187 in 1997 and 238 in 2003. The participation of independent candidates and women candidates sharply dropped in each election.
The 2006 agreement on electoral reforms between the GPC and JMP was based on reports from impartial international observers and included redrawing the imbalanced electoral districts, redefining “domicile” to prevent the transfer of army units into opposition strongholds in order to sway the vote, and revising wildly inaccurate voter rolls.
However the GPC dominated parliament stalled and stonewalled the negotiations, prompting opposition JMP members to boycott parliament several times. Without a modicum of progress since 2006, Yemen’s 2009 parliamentary election was postponed until April 2011.
Yemen’s Youth Revolution began in January 2011 and called for the overthrow and trial of Yemen’s long ruling military dictator Ali Abdullah Saleh and his entire regime. The protesters rejected both the opposition and ruling parties as corrupt, ineffective and anti-democratic. For months the United States maintained support for Saleh despite atrocities committed against protesters by state security forces. The US had invested over $300 million in Yemen’s counter-terror forces since 2006 and had little contact with political forces outside Saleh’s family and circle of elites.
In April 2011, Parliament voted itself more time in office, again delaying elections in order to “give political parties a chance to develop the political and democratic system, reshape the Supreme Commission for Elections and Referendum, and finalize discussions over related issues,” the Yemen Post reported.
By November 2011, ongoing nationwide protests forced Saleh from power under a transition plan devised by the United States and Saudi Arabia under the auspices of the United Nations (UN) and the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC).
Known as the GCC plan and endorsed by the UN Security Council, the transfer of power in Yemen was based on a guarantee of immunity for Saleh and his cronies. The GCC plan left the ruling regime and its military assets largely intact. Saleh retained his financial assets, thought to be well in excess of $10 billion.
Saleh’s Vice President Abdo Mansour Hadi was nominated as a consensus candidate by both the ruling GPC and opposition JMP. Hadi was the sole candidate in a February 2012 presidential “election” that saw a 65% turn-out.
The electoral reforms stalled since 2006 were not an issue during the 2012 presidential election, as the winner was pre-determined, but any unresolved issues certainly will come into play in 2014 when President Hadi’s term expires.
By dividing the interim government between Saleh’s GPC party and the JMP, the transition plan artificially empowered Yemen’s opposition parties, especially the Islamic Reform Party, Islah which dominates the JMP.
A report detailing President Hadi’s 220 new appointments alleges they were selected based on party affiliation and political loyalty, not merit, competence or ability.
Saleh remains active in Yemeni politics as head of the GPC party. Saleh is also thought responsible for militias and terrorists who are undermining the Yemeni security with violence directed against persons and infrastructure.
Mass protests continue in Yemen calling for the ouster of Saleh’s relatives and loyalists who remain as military commanders and in other high ranking positions. Other demands include overturning the immunity deal, and trying Saleh for mass corruption, and the deaths of protesters during the revolution and for war crimes prior to 2011.
Hadi’s government is gearing up to hold a national dialog in November, bringing in disenfranchised groups including southern secessionists and northern rebels.
High risk US embassy in Yemen gets Marine reinforcements as protests continue
by Jane Novak
An elite Marine rapid response team arrived in Yemen’s capital to protect the US embassy there which remains vulnerable and in disrepair following a mob attack this week.
Protests against a video clip deeply insulting to Muslims turned violent Wednesday when several hundred protesters in Sana’a breached the US embassy’s exterior parameter, burned 61 cars, looted computers and destroyed other property including the gate surrounding the compound.
View slideshow: Mob attacks US Embassy, Sanaa
The 14 minute video clip was uploaded to Youtube by a man in California two months ago. Its existence became public knowledge in Yemen following the murder of US Ambassador to Libya, Chris Stevens, and prompted the attack on the embassy, wide spread US flag burning and chants of “Death to America” as protests continued this week across Yemen.
News of the Marine’s deployment “enraged” Yemenis already in a heightened state of emotionalism, the Yemen Observer reported. About 50 Marines are reported to have been deployed.
Many Yemenis are unaware that the US Constitution specifically prohibits governmental infringement on religious speech and are hoping the US will arrest the film maker as could occur in a dictatorship. A substantial majority however consider the mob violence more insulting to Islam than the video.
President Abdu Mansour Hadi said in a statement that he “extends his sincere apologies to President Obama and to the people of the United States of America” for the attack.
US Ambassador to Yemen Gerald Feierstein, a highly controversial figure, said in a statement today that the deployment would be short lived and limited to the embassy grounds. Ambassador Feierstein said, “The only task of these individuals to provide assistance in our diplomatic facilities and protect American diplomats from violence, and is a temporary assignment…”
High Risk Embassy
The United States Embassy in Yemen is at especially high risk for a terrorist attack.
Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) previously attacked the US Embassy in Sana’a in September 2008 in a complex attack that killed four innocent bystanders including one Yemeni-American, as well as 10 Yemeni security personnel. AQAP is the most dangerous and active offshoot of al Qaeda.
The fanatical AQAP group was later responsible for the attempted murder of Saudi Prince Naif with the high explosive pentaerythritol tetranitrate (PETN) in August 2009, and the attempted bombing of an airliner over Detroit in December 2009, also with PETN. In October 2010, AQAP shipped toner cartridges rigged with PETN on a cargo plane headed for the US.
In Yemen, AQAP derailed the 2011 Youth Revolution and seized territory—facilitated by military commanders loyal to the former dictator, Ali Saleh. The city of Zinjibar, capital of Abyan province, was looted, and destroyed. It became a ghost town as residents fled the al Qaeda occupation for the relative safety of Aden. Al Qaeda was driven underground in June of this year, reappearing in cells in the capital as well as other governorates. The group left behind hundreds of land mines in Zinjibar.
The al Qaeda group in Yemen is engaged in a long running assassination campaign targeting a wide variety of Yemenis, most frequently members of the security forces and intelligence and high profile members of the Yemeni Transitional Government.
On Saturday, AQAP praised the 9/11 murder of US Ambassador to Libya, Chris Stevens, as al Qaeda retribution for the June death of terrorist leader Abu Yahya al Libi in a US drone strike in Pakistan. “The killing of Sheikh Abu Yahya only increased the enthusiasm and determination of the sons of (Libyan independence hero) Omar al-Mokhtar to take revenge upon those who attack our Prophet,” Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula said as quoted by the US-based monitoring group, SITE.
President Abdu Mansour Hadi said the attack on the US embassy in Sana’a was an attempt to derail his visit to Washington DC later this month. He also pointed to divisions within the security forces; loyalists and relatives of the former dictator remain in their government posts. A Youtube video shows Yemeni security officers waved protesters past a checkpoint leading to the US embassy Wednesday.
The interim president, Mr. Hadi is facing substantial challenges seven months into his term. The US sponsored transition plan for Yemen grants the former oligarchy including Ali Saleh immunity from prosecution for its decades of war crimes prior to and during Yemen’s year-long uprising demanding regime change.
Rewriting international law
The protests across Yemen may point to a deeper frustration as many of the Youth Revolutionaries believe their path to democracy was highjacked by political leaders, AQAP and the international community.
Mr. Hadi was Mr. Saleh’s Vice President and was elected in a single candidate election on February 24, 2012 as part of the transition plan endorsed by the US, Saudi Arabia and the UN Security Council and brokered by UN envoy Jamal Omar. The immunity clause represents a significant departure from established international law on crimes against humanity.
The US has rejected the revolutionaries’ continuous appeals to freeze Saleh’s US assets, and Ambassador Feierstein supports Ali Saleh’s continued political activities as head of the ruling party. Youth protesters have called for Saleh’s exile or arrest since the transition plan was announced. Protests against Mr. Feierstein’s role in the Yemeni transition garnered hundreds of thousands since the revolution began. Other protests against the US use of drones to target al Qaeda have erupted after civilian loses. An errant air strike earlier this month killed 14 civilians in a minibus, including three women and three children, the Yemeni government said.
Less well publicized than the protest at the embassy were protests last week against terrorism, assassinations and the former president’s continued disruption of the political transition. Protesters called for President Hadi to “sack the rest” of the former president’s relatives who remain in their posts.
The protest against terrorism and Saleh, which is Yemen is often the same thing, followed a spate of assassination attempts on members of the transitional government. A car bomb in Sanaa targeted Yemen’s defense minister last Tuesday killing 12, The minister was unharmed.
Across the great divide
Many Yemenis who heard about an offensive video erroneously thought it was a movie being shown in theaters, when it is a low budget 14 minute Youtube clip. A second URL on Youtube that purports to be the entire movie is the 14 minute clip looped four times.
The video was posted to Youtube two months ago and had garnered 4000 views. In the week since riots began across the Middle East, the videos received over 10 million views from across the globe.
In discussions, many Yemenis are unaware that the United States was founded by religious dissidents and minorities seeking to ensure, above all, religious freedom. Many believe Germany’s law criminalizing Holocaust denial is actually a US law.
While acknowledging the importance of a free speech in countering government corruption and in areas of art and science, others argue for an exemption in US law for insults against Islam and other “people of the book”, ignorant of the vast multiplicity of religions in America and of the US constitutional requirement of equal rights for citizens.
Some prominent religious leaders are using the offensive video and the Marines’ deployment to Sanaa to stoke fears of a US military occupation, including religious leaders who regularly engage in Taqfirism- ie, the practice of labeling other Muslims as apostates and those who call Shia Muslims “Rawafidh” or rejectionists of the true Islam.
Others like former Endowments Minster Hamoud al Hittar rejected the attack on the US embassy in Sana’s in religious terms saying, “Personnel of these missions are covenanters, whose bloods and money are forbidden and should not be attacked, and those who live in our country have nothing to do with this film.”
Suggested by the author:
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Jane @ Examiner.com
In an earlier opening to US-based military contractors and suppliers, the ITAR was revised in August 2011 to allow the export of non-lethal defense articles and services to Yemen.
In the latest ITAR update, the State Department asserted that lifting the embargo would enhance US national security and that, “Yemen has taken important steps to stabilize the country, including holding successful presidential elections in February 2012.”
The 33-year military dictatorship of Field Marshall Ali Abdullah Saleh came to an end following a year of nationwide, massive street demonstrations demanding complete regime change. Hundreds of unarmed citizens were killed and over ten thousand wounded as Yemen’s armed forces, headed by Saleh’s relatives, tried to shoot, bomb and burn the protesters into submission.
Saleh and his regime, notorious for brutality and grand corruption, received immunity under a US and Saudi sponsored deal in exchange for Saleh’s resignation. Despite ample evidence of war crimes and mass financial malfeasance prior to and during the Yemeni revolution, Saleh was neither exiled nor sanctioned. There has been no accounting for the billions stolen from the Yemeni treasury. The US maintains that Saleh is an esteemed leader, welcomed on the political scene.
With 10 million registered voters in Yemen, 6.6 million voted in February’s single candidate election for Saleh’s vice president, Abdu Mansour Hadi. As president, Hadi has achieved significant gains against al Qaeda following decades of Saleh’s appeasement and manipulation of the fanatical group.
However Saleh loyalists continue to thwart progress in Yemen administratively and through covert acts like bombing oil pipelines and a new round of al Qaeda jailbreaks. Saleh’s paid pens launched a smear campaign against the new Human Rights Minister, Hooria Mansour, prompted her boycott of cabinet meetings.
Among the many challenges Hadi faces, the most urgent is child starvation. More than one million Yemeni children are acutely malnourished and 60% suffer from chronic malnutrition, UNICEF said this week. Yemen is also facing a devastating water shortage and 70% of citizens have no access to healthcare.
Following the revolution, Yemenis remain largely fragmented and at odds, with many groups and individuals jostling to achieve narrow interests and goals. The lack of communications infrastructure and political experience means that rival groups and former opponents have yet to form a national consensus that the starving children are the nation’s top priority. Saleh’s overthrow has not yet shifted the balance of power between the citizenry and the elite, but instead instead resulted in a partial and ongoing re-shuffle of elites.
As a result, protests across the nation have continued following the election, demanding the removal of Saleh’s son Ahmed Saleh, commander of the Special Forces, and Saleh’s nephew Yahya Saleh, commander of the Central Security. The pair are the primary conduits of US counter-terror efforts and recipients of US CT funds and equipment. Ahmed Saleh is reported to own four condos in Washington, D.C. for which he paid over five million dollars, in cash.
Continuing US loyalty to Saleh’s relatives baffles and frustrates Yemenis. Nobel Laureate Tawakkol Karman recently stated, “I cannot believe the US didn’t know of Saleh’s relationship to al Qaeda.” Karman also described ousted president Ali Saleh as “the real hand” behind al Qaeda.
Judge Hamoud al Hittar was Minister of Endowments and spearheaded Yemen’s earlier efforts to reform imprisoned al Qaeda operatives through dialog and Koranic debate. He resigned the Ministry in 2011 following regime excesses during the revolution. Al Hittar recently described Ansar al Sharia, the extremist group that occupied several southern towns until Hadi’s election, as a blend of al Qaeda operatives, Saleh loyalists and those with local grievances. He also said that “some relatives of Saleh personally contacted with Al-Qaeda operatives and hampered the completion of investigation on the case of USS Cole.” Many have warned of the nexus between Saleh’s mafia and al Qaeda.
In June 2012, President Obama notified Congress of direct US military actions in Yemen, as required by the 1973 War Powers Resolution, stating “The U.S. military has also been working closely with the Yemeni government to operationally dismantle and ultimately eliminate the terrorist threat posed by al-Qa’ida in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), the most active and dangerous affiliate of al-Qa’ida today. Our joint efforts have resulted in direct action against a limited number of AQAP operatives and senior leaders in that country who posed a terrorist threat to the United States and our interests.”
In addition to the State Department’s July 3 move to open the floodgates for arms and contractors, the Pentagon announced that it will resume shipments of about $112 million in weapons and equipment for counter-terrorism operations, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta wrote to congressional defense committees on July 5.
Yemen received $252 million in counter-terror funding through mid 2010. Shipments were later suspended after state forces, including the Air Force and units commanded by Ahmed and Yahya Saleh, turned their weapons against protesters.
US humanitarian and development aid to Yemen is expected to top $175 million this year.
The faulty Blue Lantern
Yemeni protesters and elites and US officials all consider the restructuring of the Yemeni military and security forces as a top priority. However the phrase has differing meanings to each group. For Yemenis “restructuring” means decommissioning Saleh’s relatives; to the US it means arming them.
Additionally, many in Yemen and the US have valid concerns about the US ability to effectively monitor US military shipments to Yemen. US embassy personnel have had difficulty in conducting “Blue Lantern” spot checks on US supplied weapons as far back as 2004, according to one Wikileaks cable.
As a result, in July 2008, the first-ever bilateral agreement between the Yemeni and American armed forces was concluded. In a press release posted to the website of the US embassy in Sana’a, then Ambassador Seche said the End Use Monitoring Agreement (EUMA) for U.S-sponsored military and security assistance would prevent “the misuse or illicit transfer of these items and service.” The press release and all references to the 2008 EUMA have since been deleted from the US embassy’s website.
Despite the EUMA, in 2009 US trained counter-terror units and US supplied equipment were routinely diverted to internal armed conflicts in northern Yemen, according to diplomatic cables released by Wikileaks. “In the cables, US diplomats complain that their requests for Yemen to halt such diversions were having little effect,” Human Rights Watch remarked in calling for an investigation into counter-terrorism assistance to Yemen.
A January 2010 report issued by the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations found that some weapons shipped to the Yemeni military could not be accounted for and that the Yemeni military was “likely” diverting US counter terror assistance to wage war against their own citizens in the north. The Foreign Relations Committee’s fact finding mission further expressed uncertainty that US Embassy personnel fully understood what the EUMA required. The report noted,
This potential misuse of security assistance underscores the importance of enhancing the current (2008) end-use monitoring regime for U.S.-provided equipment. Indeed, the existing end-use monitoring protocols in place have revealed discrepancies between U.S. records of security assistance and those that are in the possession of Yemeni defense forces.
At a House Foreign Affairs Committee meeting on Yemen a month later, Member Ron Klein (D-FL) noted, “The worst thing we can have for our country, and our troops, and our interests over there is to find that U.S. weapons are being used against us.”
In response, Jeffery Feltman, Assistant Secretary of State assured the committee that, “We’re very aware of the human — of a poor human rights record in Yemen. We’re very aware of the fact that the country is awash in a black — in a black market on weapons. So these factors very much play into how we do the monitoring.”
In December 2010, Human Rights Watch urged the US to “investigate Yemen’s apparent diversion of US counterterrorism assistance to an abusive military campaign unrelated to terrorist threats and suspend such aid unless the misuse has stopped.” However, US support was only curtailed in mid-2011 when such abuses occurred in the full glare of the western media attending the popular uprising against Saleh’s regime.
Fanning the fire
The impending influx of private contractors and private weapons sales to a variety of end users in Yemen permitted under the latest ITAR revision magnify concerns about the diversion of US supplied weapons onto the Yemeni black market and their use against civilians and for political ends
With the loyalty of some units in the military and security services, and vast chunks of the state bureaucracies, lying with former President Saleh and other competing commanders, President Hadi’s task of wresting control of the state from al Qaeda and private militias is daunting.
The ITAR’s revision in its policy on Yemen may arise from Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s vision for a State Department that actively prevents low intensity conflicts. In a speech at a military trade show, Ms Clinton cited US intervention in Yemen as an example of her vision of a more integrated and effective nexus between foreign partners, US diplomats and Special Forces, the Danger Room reports.
The State Department has stood up a new bureau of Conflict and Stabilization Operations, which Clinton said “is working to put into practice lessons learned over the past decade and institutionalize a civilian surge capacity to deal with crises and hotspots.” Together, Special Operations Forces and State’s new Conflict Bureau are the twin arms of an expanding institution for waging small, low-intensity shadow wars all over the world.
But rumor has it Clinton’s vision has its detractors — and that its implementation in hotspots such as Yemen and Congo has made some Special Operations Forces officers very unhappy. In Yemen, in particular, some commando officers look upon the State Department’s expanding shadow-war powers as a bureaucratic intrusion on what should be military territory. A source tells Danger Room that in Yemen State has effectively hijacked all U.S. counter-terrorism funding, requiring a labyrinthine approval process for even small expenditures. According to detractors, the funding control is a way of cementing State’s expansion into the Special Operations Forces traditional remit.
The introduction of private defense contractors and commercial weapons vendors to Yemen in an effort to stabilize the state, enhance its reach and thwart al Qaeda carries both potential risk and reward. With the US’s proven inability to keep track of prior military shipments, the revision of the ITAR has the potential to inflame low intensity conflicts already underway. Many of Yemen’s internal disputes have deep roots and long histories; others are a result of the reconfigurations that occurred during and after the 2011 Yemen Revolution.
At the same time the Yemeni military and security services are sorely in need of re-organization, training, standardized methods and modern equipment. A strong legal framework including respect for civil and human rights, and the rights of the soldiers themselves, needs be introduced from the top down and the bottom up. An impartial body in Yemen should also provide oversight and limitations on imports allowed by the revised US ITAR.
Yemeni service men and women, police and security officers, are in the cross hairs of al Qaeda with assassinations and suicide bombers targeting them nearly daily. And like other sectors of the ravaged and dysfunctional Yemen state, the military and security services could benefit from international aid and support. But the focus of the US State Department must remain on creating an effective and cohesive national force that serves all the Yemeni people and not only urgent US counter-terror interests.
Reporting to Abyan’s governor, the YEMAC said it had cleared or exploded over 2100 shells and mines since June 13, the day after al Qaeda’s retreat from strongholds in Abyan. Several hundred mines remain active and the de-mining group is urging public caution.
A local Sheikh in Zinjibar said the terrorists had sown explosives throughout the city’s main streets, and warned against early repatriation of tens of thousands of residents displaced by al-Qaeda’s year long occupation of the provincial capital.
The fanatical group had operated in Abyan under the brand Ansar al Sharia, or Supporters of Sharia, in order to distance itself from negative public perception Yemen’s al Qaeda affiliate, Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP).
Also on Sunday Yemeni authorities announced they had reclaimed control of the town of Azzan in neighboring Shabwa province. It was the latest in a series of successes against AQAP under President Mansour Hadi who assumed office in February after a year of nationwide protests against the 33 year military dictatorship of Ali Saleh.
The Saleh regime long exploited the al Qaeda threat to elicit aid from the US and Saudi Arabia. At times, members of the former regime provided material support to al Qaeda despite hundreds of millions in counter-terror aid from the United States. These ties continue to hamper efforts to reassert state control and provide security to the public.
In May the perpetrator of an attack that killed 98 soldiers was found to be a member of the Central Security, commanded by Ali Saleh’s nephew, Yahya Saleh, military officials said. One analyst called it, “one desperate attempt by both al-Qaida and Saleh’s regime to survive.” Yahya Saleh was demoted following the attack.
In June, a senior military commander Major Ali Salem Qatan was murdered by a suicide bomber in Aden where the general has been orchestrating the military campaign against the al Qaeda franchise.
Qatan had been appointed by President Hadi in March, replacing Maj. Gen. Mahdi al-Magwala who was often accused of collusion with the militants. Yemeni authorities later arrested Sami Dhayan in connection with the attack. A jihaddist mercenary ties to the Saleh regime, Dhayan along with two others was captured in possession of explosives and suicide vests.
“Executing prisoners is a serious violation of the laws of war and a war crime,” Human Rights Watch said in a statement today. “It is also a war crime to use detainees as hostages by threatening to kill or otherwise harm them to compel another party to do or abstain from any act.”
The rights group is calling on the militants to end the threat to kill their prisoners.
The ultimatum came on April 23, 2012 in posters distributed by “Ansar al Sharia” (Supporters of Sharia) in Abyan, Southern Yemen where al Qaeda has occupied several towns for nearly a year.
The hostages will be executed in groups of ten beginning April 30 unless the state agrees to swap al Qaeda prisoners for the soldiers.
The Yemeni soldiers were captured in early March as government forces battled the insurgents for control of Zinjibar, the provincial capital of Abyan. The terror group subsequently displayed the hostages in several propaganda videos.
Yemeni al Qaeda operatives rebranded themselves as Ansar al Sharia in order to distance themselves from their reputation as mercenaries for the former regime of Ali Abdullah Saleh. Last week, a member of the Yemeni military was suspended for arming the al Qaeda group with hundreds of artillery shells.
Military commanders loyal to ousted president Ali Abdullah Saleh have been accused of colluding with al Qaeda since the group overran Zinjibar in May 2010. On Friday, a military commander was suspended on suspicion of providing 410 artillery shells to the Ansar al Sharia group for use against the Yemeni army.
The Yemen Times reports the commander’s goal in supporting al Qaeda is, “terrorizing the West, so it would see Saleh’s departure as synonymous with insecurity in Yemen.”
Ansar al Sharia imposed a strict and often brutal interpretation of Sharia law during the Yemeni revolution while Yemen’s counter-terror forces focused their efforts against Yemeni protesters demanding regime change, civil rights and accountability.
In February, after a year of protests, Vice President Abdo Mansour Hadi was sworn in as president, after a single candidate election, ending Ali Abdullah Saleh’s 33 year dictatorship.
Al Qaeda in Yemen committed a vast array of crimes against Yemeni citizens during its brutal occupation of Zinjibar, Jarr and other towns in Abyan. The terror group executed several citizens including a female traditional healer who was condemned as a witch. Several of these summary executions were videotaped and uploaded to Youtube.
Three suspected Saudi spies were also executed; their corpses were crucified and hung with signs warning against cooperation with Yemeni authorities. Al Qaeda in Yemen also banned satellite television and newspapers that promote human rights, reform and political participation.
Human Rights Watch documentation of abuses by the militants in areas they control includes floggings, amputations, and other harsh enforcement of Sharia law.
Over 100,000 Yemeni citizens fled their homes as al Qaeda used civilians in Abyan as human shields. Many too poor to flee are caught between al Qaeda’s tyranny and US drone strikes.
Ali Abdullah Saleh was coaxed from office after 33 years in power with a guarantee of immunity for war crimes and corruption spanning decades. US officials had hoped to retain Saleh’s relatives in key positions in the counter-terror units.
Yemen’s current president Abo Mansour Hadi is facing difficulty purging Saleh’s relatives from leadership positions. Saleh’s half brother refused to relinquish control of the Air Force for two weeks after he was officially replaced as commander.
FBI director Robert Mueller was in Yemen this week and pledged continuing US support for Yemeni efforts against al Qaeda.
A law passed by Yemen’s cabinet on Sunday provides blanket immunity to former president Ali Abdullah Saleh and all those who served in his governments over the last 33 years. One unintended consequence may be to also immunize those al Qaeda operatives on the payroll of the Yemeni military and security services.
The law grants immunity to Saleh “and whoever worked with him in all the state’s civil, military and security apparatus and organizations during the period of his rule.” The US has pushed for the transition plan since May despite broad public rejection of the immunity clause.
Yemeni military commanders including those now in the opposition are thought be complicit in a range of terror attacks, in addition to a long standing pattern of facilitating al Qaeda. Many al Qaeda operatives who draw a state salary would be covered under the immunity deal.
As one example, former Interior Minister Hussain Arab issued an official travel permit to Abdel Rahman al Nashiri in 2000, covering the period of the USS Cole attack that killed 17 US service members. Not only would the law absolve Mr. Arab of any complicity in the al Qaeda attack, it may also absolve Mr. al Nashiri.
If Al Nashiri, who is currently scheduled for trial at Guantanamo Bay, can produce witnesses to the involvement of Yemeni government officials in the attack, the Obama administration will be placed in the uncomfortable position of having lobbied for immunity for al Qaeda operatives who attacked a US war ship.
Similarly another Yemeni detainee with demonstrated foreknowledge of the 9/11 attack in New York had been employed by the Yemeni Political Security Organization prior to his capture in Egypt.
Yemeni officials have openly admitted to paying al Qaeda operatives’ salaries, purportedly as informants or to keep them out of trouble. Some of those currently partaking in the al Qaeda occupation of Abyan have been found with identity cards from the National Security.
Yemeni activists have long asserted that the state uses al Qaeda to attack its enemies and threaten the international community. Al Qaeda targeted and killed several foreign nationals in Yemen since 2007 including aid workers from Germany, Britain and South Korea as well as tourists from Spain, South Korea and Belgium. Yemeni officials have stated that al Qaeda is able to obtain intelligence from the security services as a matter of corruption rather than ideology.
The law, which will be presented for parliament’s approval within coming days, also covers those government officials guilty of massive corruption and embezzlement, the primary cause of Yemen’s staggering illiteracy and malnutrition rates. Members of the presidential family are thought to have deposited millions abroad.
State Department spokesperson Victoria Nuland termed the immunity clause “useful” if it encourages “the strongman to leave the stage.”
Hundreds of protesters were killed by security forces, many by sniper shots to the head, since protests began in February 2011 demanding regime change. The killings continued unabated even after Saleh signed the power transfer deal in November.
Saleh supporters and security forces have attacked numerous journalists RSF reported since the departure plan was signed. Calling December 2011 “a particularly black month,” Reporters Without Borders firmly condemned the continuing violations and urged the international community to intercede.
Yemeni protesters largely reject the US backed transition plan because of the immunity clause. Protests calling for Saleh’s trial continue in nearly every governorate.
The UN Security Council endorsed the agreement, which was ironed out by UN envoy, Jamal Benomar. However, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, issued a statement last week asserting that the plan is illegal under international law,
“I have been closely following the events in Yemen, particularly the very contentious debate about an amnesty law to be presented to Parliament shortly,” the High Commissioner said.
“International law and the UN policy are clear on the matter: amnesties are not permissible if they prevent the prosecution of individuals who may be criminally responsible for international crimes including war crimes, crimes against humanity, genocide, and gross violations of human rights.”
Probable war crimes committed during the Saada war (2005-2010) include the “Scorched Earth” campaign during the sixth round of war, 2009-2010, when the Yemeni air force repeatedly bombed civilian villages, refugee camps and vital infrastructure. Saudi air support was responsible for bombing a Yemeni hospital, which Saudi authorities called “a mistake” in conversations to US officials, according to a Wikileaks document. The deliberate denial of humanitarian aid and a pattern of mass nationwide arrests are also thought to have contravened international law.
Another pattern of systematic abuse with regard to southern protesters since 2007 is well documented.
The transition plan, although forwarded by the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), is the brain child of President Obama’s counter-terror adviser, John Brennan and US ambassador to Yemen, Gerald Feierstein.
The Wall Street Journal revealed last week that Mr. Brennan was “pissed” when it became apparent that President Saleh had orchestrated a hit on a political rival, via US drone, by feeding false intelligence to the US. The incident in May 2010 killed the deputy governor of Marib, Jabir Shabwani. Observers questioned Mr. Brennan’s gullibility considering Saleh’s quite long and extensive history of repeatedly duping the US on counter-terror issues.
Yemenis have held several protests calling for the expulsion of US Ambassador Feierstein after he disparaged a 170 mile march from Taiz to Sana’a, held to underscore public rejection of the amnesty deal. Ambassador Feierstein said the marchers were trying to provoke chaos and thus not inherently peaceful. When state forces killed 11 marchers later in the day, Yemenis charged that the US had given the Saleh regime the green light to murder as well as provided the amnesty afterward.
Over several months, US diplomats have pushed hard for the immunity deal as a way to ease Saleh out of office; however Saleh has outplayed the US at every turn. The aged dictator shows no real intention of giving up power and continues to operate on the political scene through proxies in the unity government.
As pressure builds on the Obama administration to deny a diplomatic visa to ousted Yemeni president, Ali Abdullah Saleh, the family of a sailor killed in the al Qaeda attack on the USS Cole urged that Saleh be denied entry to the United States.
In a public plea, Gary and Deborah Swenchonis are calling on US officials to “do the right thing” in light of Saleh’s “ruthless behavior” toward both his own people and the sailors aboard the USS Cole when it was attacked.
“If Saleh was allowed to come here to America, it would be just another insult in a long line of insults to the murdered sailors, those wounded, and those sailors who fought so hard and so long to keep the Cole afloat, and to bring her back home. And not to mention all the other Americans who could never understand why our own government continued to befriend Saleh in light of how he helped the plotters of the Cole Attack in which 17 American sailors were murdered, and 39 more wounded.”
Their son Gary Swenchonis Jr. was a fireman aboard the USS Cole and among those US service members killed in October 2000 when al Qaeda operatives detonated a bomb alongside the warship as it was refueling in the Port of Aden.
The Swenchonis family notes that through several administrations, the US government has never held Saleh to account for his part in obstructing the USS Cole investigation, allowing the terrorists to repeatedly escape justice or in facilitating the attack itself.
Like other aggrieved parties including torture victims, the Swenchonis family vowed to use “every legal option at our disposal to make him stand trial in a civil court” should Saleh find refuge in the United States.
Saleh said last week that he intended to go into ”temporary exile” in the United States.
“I will go to the United States. Not for treatment, because I’m fine, but to get away from attention, cameras, and allow the unity government to prepare properly for elections,” he was reported as saying. The statement came hours after nine protesters were killed by Yemeni security forces. Other reports said the former president will seek treatment in the US for injuries sustained in a June bombing at the presidential palace.
The New York based Center for Constitutional Rights said yesterday that it is also considering filing a civil suit against Saleh for human rights abuses he committed since demonstrations demanding regime change began in February. Thousands were killed or wounded when Yemeni security forces, headed by Saleh’s relatives, opened fire on protesters.
The most recent fatalities came after thousands participated in “The Life March.” Protesters journeyed on foot 170 miles from the southern province of Taiz to the capital Sana’a to underscore public rejection of a US sponsored deal that grants Saleh immunity from prosecution in return for his resignation, tendered in November.
A third group considering legal action includes Yemeni Americans tortured while in Yemeni jail for political activity against the regime prior to the outbreak of protests.
The Swenchonis family noted that democracy minded Yemenis “cannot understand our government’s continued infatuation with Saleh of Yemen. The more our government continues to protect this murderer, his family, and his government, the more difficult it will be to gain these peoples’ trust. The Yemeni people have a right to make Saleh stand trial for all of his crimes. And we hope that Saleh will actually have to face the consequences of his actions towards them and his country.”
“We as citizens of this country do not believe that we as a nation should provide a safe haven for a man who has ordered the murder and torture of his own citizens, who had journalists arrested, tortured and imprisoned because they reported on the crimes and corruptions of his regime.”
President Obama assigned his counter-terror advisor, John Brennan, the leading role in US policy in Yemen, which is centered on the continuity of counter-terror efforts, leading to a wide disconnect with the Yemeni public.
Hours before the latest fatalities in Yemen, US Ambassador Gerald Feierstein said that the Life March although unarmed was not peaceful because it was intended to create chaos and provoke the security forces. The remarks, which appear to blame the protesters for their own deaths, infuriated many and organized efforts are underway demanding the ambassador’s expulsion.