The ‘Broader’ Questions About the Secret War in Yemen

“CIA Sees Increased Threat in Yemen” is the Washington Post‘s headline today (8/25/10) over astory thattells of a”sober new assessment” of Al Qaeda-related activities that has “helped prompt senior Obama administration officials to call for an escalation of U.S. operations there–including a proposal to add armed CIA drones to a clandestine campaign of U.S. military strikes.”

At present, U.S. airstrikes in Yemen are not carried out by drones,but “have involved cruise missiles and other weapon that are less precise.” The Post adds:

Proponents of expanding the CIA’s role argue that years of flying armed drones over Pakistan have given the agency expertise in identifying targets and delivering pinpoint strikes. The agency’s attacks also leave fewer telltale signs.

When a newspaper quotes anonymous officials who argue for expanding an undeclared war in ways that hide U.S. involvement, you might hope that would call out for some balancing perspectives who might question the legality, if not the wisdom, of launching secret deadly airstrikes on a non-belligerent country. But such voices are missing from the Post story.

Some of the same problems were evidentin an August 15 New York Times story about the very same issue–the expanding war in Yemen, part of a military campaign happening in “roughly a dozen countries.” The Times explained the relevant concerns about such operations: fueling “anti-American rage,” the lack of congressional oversight, and “a blurring of the lines between soldiers and spies that could put troops at risk of being denied Geneva Convention protections.”

One would hope that media interestin the Geneva Conventions and international law might include larger questions than what might happen to captured U.S. soldiers and spies.Like the actual legality of launching undeclared wars,for instance.

Deep into the piece, the Times gets back to the details of a December attack:

A Navy ship offshore had fired the weapon in the attack, a cruise missile loaded with cluster bombs, according to a report by Amnesty International. Unlike conventional bombs, cluster bombs disperse small munitions, some of which do not immediately explode, increasing the likelihood of civilian causalities. The use of cluster munitions, later documented by Amnesty, was condemned by human rights groups.

An inquiry by the Yemeni Parliament found that the strike had killed at least 41 members of two families living near the makeshift Qaeda camp. Three more civilians were killed and nine were wounded four days later when they stepped on unexploded munitions from the strike, the inquiry found.

So theUnited States military killed dozens of civilians in a cluster bomb attack. One has to read deep into a rather long piece in order to learn this fact. The Times neatly captures the way many media outlets view these kinds of stories:

The Yemen operation has raised a broader question: Who should be running the shadow war?

Should the military bomb Yemen, or should the CIA do it? That’s the way the Times sees the “debate.”

About Peter Hart

Activism Director and and Co-producer of CounterSpinPeter Hart is the activism director at FAIR. He writes for FAIR's magazine Extra! and is also a co-host and producer of FAIR's syndicated radio show CounterSpin. He is the author of The Oh Really? Factor: Unspinning Fox News Channel's Bill O'Reilly (Seven Stories Press, 2003). Hart has been interviewed by a number of media outlets, including NBC Nightly News, Fox News Channel's O'Reilly Factor, the Los Angeles Times, Newsday and the Associated Press. He has also appeared on Showtime and in the movie Outfoxed. Follow Peter on Twitter at @peterfhart.