U.S. Murders Six
in Yemen with Hellfire
Missile Fired from Drone Aircraft
--- Four articles ---
Drops Bomb in Yemen, Kills Six al-Qaida Operatives, Greg Miller and
Josh Meyer, Los Angeles Times, November 5, 2002
US braces for retaliation after Yemen assassination, Greg Miller,
Los Angeles Times, November 7, 2002
U.S. Citizen Among Six Murdered in Yemen by U.S. Missile Strike: Action's Legality
and Effectiveness Questioned, Dana Priest, Washington Post, November 8, 2002
Professor Defends U.S. Murder of Six in Yemen: Claims murders
were not an illegal assassination, but the killing of an enemy combatant during
wartime with collateral damage, Jeffrey F. Addicott, November 7, 2002
U.S. Drops Bomb in Yemen,
Kills Six al-Qaida Operatives
By Greg Miller and Josh Meyer
LOS ANGELES TIMES
November 5, 2002
WASHINGTON - A missile fired from an unmanned CIA surrveillance aircraft over Yemen killed six al-Qaida operatives, including one of the terrorist network’s most senior figures -- a man the United States had hunted for years, U.S. officials said Monday.
The strike represented a sharp escalation in tactics in the Bush administration’s war on terrorism, demonstrating for the first time that the United States is willing to launch military-style assaults on al-Qaida members far from the theater of war in Afghanistan.
The principal target in the attack Sunday was Qaed Sinan Harithi, a Yemeni who intelligence officials said was among the top 12 figures in al-Qaida. He was a key suspect in the bombings of the U.S. destroyer Cole in Yemen in 2000 that killed 17 U.S. sailors and the recent bombing of a French tanker.
President Bush did not directly address the incident Monday, but reiterated that he is determined to eliminate al-Qaida.
“The only way to treat them is [for] what they are -- international killers,” Bush said during a campaign stop in Arkansas. “And the only way to find them is to be patient, and steadfast, and hunt them down. And the United States of America is doing just that,” he said. “We’re in it for the long haul.”
Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld made it clear that the United States was pleased with the outcome of the attack, although he declined to discuss details.
Harithi “has been sought after as an al-Qaida member, as well as a suspected terrorist connected to the USS Cole,” Rumsfeld said. “So it would be a very good thing if he were out of business.”
Pentagon officials declined to comment on the bombing, except to say that the U.S. military was not involved. CIA officials also refused to comment.
But U.S. officials who spoke on condition that they not be identified confirmed that the strike was carried out by a CIA-run Predator aircraft, an unmanned surveillance drone armed with Hellfire anti-tank missiles.
The attack was said to have occurred in a rugged area in northern Yemen, an impoverished Persian Gulf nation long considered a haven for Islamic militants before it was reluctantly drawn into the campaign against al-Qaida following the Sept. 11 attacks.
Some news reports from Yemen cited witnesses who said there was a secondary explosion after the vehicle was hit, indicating it may have been packed with explosives. Television footage from the scene showed little more than a charred patch of earth. An Interior Ministry official told Yemen’s Saba news agency that arms, traces of explosives and communications equipment were found in the car the suspects were driving in remote Marib province.
U.S. intelligence officials said Harithi was the highest-ranking al-Qaida figure in Yemen, a one-time bodyguard to Osama bin Laden who had risen rapidly in the ranks of the organization. Yemen is bin Laden’s ancestral home.
authorities reportedly detained or expelled dozens of al-Qaida figures after the
Sept. 11 attacks. But much of the nation remains lawless, particularly along
barren stretches of the Yemen-Saudi-Arabia border dominated by powerful tribes.
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US braces for retaliation after
By Greg Miller in Washington
November 7 2002
The CIA's assassination in Yemen of alleged al-Qaeda operatives has triggered outrage in some quarters and forced United States officials into the difficult position of defending a tactic it has criticised Israel for using.
For years, a debate raged within the CIA: should the US hunt down and kill its terrorist foes or would Israeli-style "targeted killings" only invite retribution and feed an endless cycle of violence?
The debate ended on Sunday when the CIA incinerated an alleged al-Qaeda leader, Qaed Salim Sinan al-Harethi, and five other alleged operatives with a laser-guided Hellfire missile, fired from an unmanned drone aircraft.
Even those who applauded the strike said it was sure to inflame militant Muslims, including those belonging to the al-Qaeda network, and expose US diplomats and other overseas officials to possible retaliation. On Tuesday the US said it was closing its embassy in Yemen to the public indefinitely amid fears it might become a target for an attack to retaliate for the killings.
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U.S. Citizen Among Six Murdered
in Yemen by U.S. Missile Strike
Action's Legality, Effectiveness Questioned
Friday, November 8, 2002
A U.S. citizen was among the people killed in the pilotless missile strike on suspected al Qaeda terrorists in Yemen Sunday [November 3, 2002], administration officials confirmed yesterday, adding a new element to an attack that reflects the evolving nature of the U.S. war on terrorism around the world.
Ahmed Hijazi and five other suspected al Qaeda operatives were killed by a five-foot long Hellfire missile launched from a remote controlled CIA Predator aircraft as they rode in a vehicle 100 miles east of the Yemeni capital, Sanaa.
Hijazi held U.S. citizenship and was also a citizen of an unidentified Middle Eastern country, a senior administration official confirmed. He was not born in the United States, but resided here for an unknown period of time, the official said.
With him in the vehicle, said Yemeni and U.S. government officials, was a senior al Qaeda leader, Abu Ali al-Harithi, who is suspected of masterminding the October 2000 attack on the destroyer USS Cole.
Hijazi's citizenship highlights the different approaches pursued simultaneously by the administration as it wages its war on terror. In some cases since Sept. 11, American citizens have been arrested and afforded traditional legal rights in the criminal justice system. In others, they have been captured and held indefinitely in military brigs as "enemy combatants." Now, at least in Hijazi's case, a citizen has been killed in a covert military action.
What's more, Hijazi was killed in a country considered at peace with the United States, although U.S. officials say the strike was carried out with the approval and cooperation of Yemen's government.
It was unclear whether the CIA operatives who fired the missile knew that an American citizen was among their targets. It also was unclear whether that would have made any difference.
Even in war, the U.S. government affords greater legal protections to U.S. citizens than foreigners and, in peacetime, the CIA is restricted in the kinds of surveillance and operations it can conduct against U.S. citizens at home and abroad.
The administration, working with the authority of a presidential finding that permits covert actions against Osama bin Laden's al Qaeda terrorist network, considered al-Harithi and his traveling party a military target -- "combatants" under international law.
Officials further contend that Sunday's missile strike was an act of self-defense, which is also permitted under the international laws of war, because al-Harithi already had allegedly attacked the United States in October 2000 when he helped blow up the USS Cole, killing 17 sailors.
Administration officials, intelligence operatives and military analysts, frustrated with the slow, torturous pace of locating and capturing individual terrorists in lawless areas of countries such as Yemen, praised the CIA strikes as an innovative way to get the job done.
"This is an extraordinary change of threshold," said one former intelligence operative who praised the tactic as particularly effective.
The CIA strikes are also a reflection, they say, of how slow the U.S. military, even its Special Operations forces, have been to adapt to the ad hoc, ever-changing tactics of smaller and smaller cadres of terrorists now operating without much of a command structure. The CIA, in fact, has become a much more central tactical military tool in the terrorism war than in any previous conflict, largely because it has a much less cumbersome bureaucracy.
The CIA's separate targeting process, which was used in Sunday's Predator strike, is quicker, more fluid and involves fewer decision-makers in its "trigger-pulling" chain of command than even the nimblest military operation, intelligence experts said.
But while the lethality of the CIA Predator attack was considered successful, it also raises a host of new questions about the legality, effectiveness and ethics of using a tactic outwardly akin to assassination. Assassination is banned by a presidential executive order.
"This ought to be a last resort for the United States," said Jeffrey H. Smith, former general counsel at the CIA. The preferable route, he said, would be to capture and try terrorists, and share the evidence of guilt with the world.
"To the extent you do more and more of this, it begins to look like it is policy," Smith said. "It is not clear that that is an effective tool." Israel, for example, has asserted it has targeted individual Palestinians whom it considers combatants. But the tactic has not stopped suicide attacks and other violence; some analysts suggest it has only outraged the Palestinian community and fueled the violence.
After a while, Smith said, such pinpoint targeting of individuals might "suggest that it's acceptable behavior to assassinate people. . . . Assassination as a norm of international conduct exposes American leaders and Americans overseas."
State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said yesterday that the government did not yet have enough information to verify Hijazi's U.S. citizenship but may learn more from Yemeni authorities. Yemeni officials said yesterday that personal documents, weapons and satellite telephones had been found in the burned-out car.
Yemen is bin Laden's ancestral home, and U.S. intelligence officials describe the country as one of the key refuges for al Qaeda operatives pushed out of Afghanistan by the war there. U.S. Special Forces trainers were sent to Yemen after Sept. 11, 2001.
The U.S. military has been preparing more intensive operations in Yemen. But military operations have proven highly risky. In December, an attempt to force militant Islamic tribal forces on the Saudi border to turn over suspected al Qaeda members ended with the deaths of 13 Yemeni soldiers.
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Assistant Law Professor Defends
U.S. Murder of Six in Yemen
Claims murders were not an illegal assassination,
but the killing
of an enemy combatant during war
with collateral damage
By Jeffrey F. Addicott
November 7, 2002
Jeffrey F. Addicott retired military officer and former senior legal advisor to the U.S. Army Special Forces, is an Assistant Professor of Law at St. Mary's University-Law School in San Antonio, Texas, where he teaches a variety of courses on national security law. He is the author of Winning the War on Terror (2002).
In the wake of the targeted killing of senior al-Qa’eda leader Qaed Salim Sinan al-Harethi in Yemen this past Sunday, apparently by a CIA drone, confused voices of dissent are challenging the legality of the American strike by labeling it “assassination” in violation of Presidential Executive Order 12333. In fact, the killing of this enemy combatant and his associates as they were seated in their car is not even remotely an act of assassination prohibited by that Order. The incident does, however, provide an opportunity to revisit the nature and meaning of the so-called "assassination ban."
Under customary international law assassination has long been recognized as an illegal act. In the United States, the origin of the presidential ban on assassination is traced to 1977, when President Gerald Ford issued the first executive order which prohibited political assassination. In 1981, President Ronald Reagan issued his own Executive Order 12333 which reads: “No person employed by or acting on behalf of the United States government shall engage in, or conspire to engage in, assassination.” Subsequent Presidents have not changed the Reagan order banning assassination, but confusion continues to swirl over the meaning of the ban, to the point that some senior lawmakers have actually argued that the ban should be revoked because it might impede the War on Terror. This view is mistaken. Executive Order 12333 in no way restricts the lawful use of violence against legitimate enemy targets. At the same time, those who advocate lifting the ban in order to allow the United States to engage in assassination are essentially advocating that the United States should be able to engage in “unlawful killing,” or “murder.”
There are two interlocking principles that must be understood in weighing the matter of Executive Order 12333. The first involves the definition of "assassination" and the second relates to the Rule of Law.
Executive Order 12333 provides no definition of assassination. A comparison of dictionary definitions reveals that the most common definition of the term is “murder by surprise for political purposes.” Since murder is per se an illegal act, the definitional problem automatically defeats any reasoned advancement of the proposition that murder can somehow be made lawful. In other words, if murder is a violation of both domestic United States law and international law, Executive Order 12333 really does not make “illegal” something that was not already illegal.
On the other hand, the lawful use of violence is rooted in both customary principles and in Article 51 of the U.N. Charter. Essentially, lawful violence can be justified if - and only if - exercised in “self-defensee.” In the War on Terror, it is beyond legal dispute that the virtual-State al-Qa’eda terrorists are aggressors and that the United States is engaging in self-defense when using violence against them. Indeed, on at least one occasion prior to the illegal aggression of September 11, 2001, the United States lawfully exercised the inherent right of self-defense against al-Qa’eda: President Bill Clinton sent cruise missiles against several al-Qa’eda terror training camps in Afghanistan following the 1998 al-Qa’eda attack on two United States’ embassies in Africa.
Since we are at war with al-Qa’eda, any legal analysis of the use of violence against that enemy turns on how violence is employed. In short, the United States must exercise violence lawfully in accordance with the rules associated with the law of armed conflict. The law of armed conflict describes lawful targets which can be destroyed in the proper context of combat operations. An enemy combatant - whether part of an organized military or a civilian who undertakes military activities - is a legitimate target at all times and may be lawfully killed, even if by surprise. At the same time, the law of armed conflict absolutely prohibits the killing of noncombatants, except as a matter of collateral damage where civilians may be killed ancillary to the lawful attack on a military objective. Targetting civilians specifically as a military objective in time of war is illegal and criminal.
Thus, as long as the international armed conflict with the virtual-State of al-Qa’eda continues, the killing of al-Qa’eda combatants such as al-Havethi is certainly not assassination. Unless they surrender, these individuals are legitimate and legal targets and may be killed on sight.
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