Code Pink, a women-led grassroots peace movement, has sent a delegation of seven Americans to Yemen to meet with victims of U.S. drone attacks and individuals with family members who are being held at Guantanamo Bay prison.
Since the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, Yemen has become a major battleground for U.S. anti-terror operations aimed at routing al-Qaida and other active terrorist groups. U.S. drone strikes in Yemen have killed high-level leaders but have also led to the deaths of nearly 100 civilians since 2002, according to estimates by the London-based Bureau of Investigative Journalism.
Last year, Code Pink took a similar trip to meet with victims of U.S. drone strikes in Pakistan.
On the first full day of their trip to Yemen, the Code Pink delegates met with Abdul Rahman Barman, a lawyer for the HOOD human rights organization. Barman represents Abdulelah Haider Shaye and many of the Guantanamo prisoners, as well as drone strike survivors. They were joined by Baraa Shiban, the project coordinator from Reprieve, a human rights group based in London.
According to an account from Jodie Evans, one of the Code Pink delegates, Barman and Shiban shared stories of how drone strikes are not only ineffective, but have become a recruiting tool for al-Qaida and other radical groups.
Following their conversations earlier this week, Evans wrote about the failures of U.S. counterterrorism work in Yemen in a blog post.
“We learned how former President (Ali Abdullah) Saleh took advantage of Al-Qaeda’s growing presence in the Arabian Peninsula — or better known as AQAP– and would exaggerate the threat to the United States to secure funding for himself,” she wrote.
Saleh, Yemen’s president for the past 33 years, was forced to step down in February 2012 after months of protests calling for a new government. Despite his removal from power, the drone strikes continue as the Yemeni-U.S. counterterrorism alliance remains mostly unchanged.
“We also learned through US cable leaks in 2012 that Saleh gave the U.S. ‘an open door to terrorism,’” Evans wrote. “This strategy was counter-productive and strengthened and helped AQAP grow. When a loved one is killed for no reason by our counter-terrorism policies, and their deaths are being denied by both Yemeni and U.S. governments, Yemenis feel that there is no other way but to seek revenge and join a militant group.”
In the coming days, Code Pink plans to meet with individuals who have family at the Guantanamo Bay prison.
Opened in 2002, the Guantanamo Bay prison has housed over 779 men thought to be connected to al-Qaida and other terrorist groups. More than 500 have been repatriated or transferred to another country, but 166 remain behind bars. Some have been held for more than a decade without charge despite being cleared for release.
More than 100 of the detainees are carrying out a hunger strike to protest prolonged detention without charge and poor prison conditions that have been described by Amnesty International as a form of torture.
Earlier this year, President Barack Obama renewed a vow to close the Guantanamo Bay prison and lifted a ban on prisoner transfers to Yemen. Of the 86 cleared for release, 56 are Yemeni nationals.
Last month, Obama’s major speech on national security policy was interrupted by Code Pink co-founder Medea Benjamin, who has been an outspoken opponent of President Obama’s drone policy.
“I love my country. I love the rule of law. The drones are making us less safe,” Benjamin shouted during the president’s speech.
For Code Pink, an opponent of drone strikes and Guantanamo Bay prison, the best anti-terror strategy requires an economic development-focused approach that Evans says is necessary to meet the basic needs of the Yemeni population.
“At least half of Yemen’s population are forced to worry about where they will be getting their next meal from. In addition to food insecurity, education, electricity and other basic needs are also being ignored by the Yemeni government,” Evans wrote.