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In Yemen, Let's Redeem President Obama's War on Terror Reform Speech

Friday, 07 June 2013 00:00 By Robert Naiman, Truthout | Op-Ed
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Obama speech.President Barack Obama delivers a speech on counterterrorism at the National Defense University in Washington, May 23, 2013. (Photo: Doug Mills / The New York Times)Following President Obama's speech on war reform, Robert Naiman will travel to Yemen in the hope of redeeming this promise. Petition in hand, Naiman will call for the release of Yemeni prisoners at Guantanamo and for the drone strikes in Yemen to end.

Have you ever gotten on a boat or a train when you didn't have exactly the right ticket for that boat or that train at that particular time?

True confessions: I have.

The situation requires a certain degree of chutzpah – self-confidence in your ability to redeem a promise for more than some people think it is actually worth.

There's no question that in his recent speech at National Defense University, President Obama promised to substantially reform the so-called "war" previously known as the "Global War on Terror."

How exactly he promised to reform it has been a matter of substantial debate.

Has the President promised to end "signature" drone strikes that target unknown people, a major cause of civilian casualties? The jury is still out.

Next week, I'm going to Yemen on a peace delegation organized by CodePink. We'll be meeting with families of prisoners at Guantanamo and families who have been harmed by US drone strikes in Yemen. We hope by our presence to help lift up their stories where the American public can see them. I am confident that the abusive policies of the former "Global War on Terror" will not stand when we make the innocent victims of these policies more visible.

I have an audacious goal for our trip: to help redeem President Obama's promise of reform as it applies to Yemen, so that six months from now, we can look back and say the so-called "war" - previously known as the "Global War on Terror" - was substantially reformed following President Obama's speech.

We plan to meet with the US Embassy in Sanaa. I hope to hand-deliver this petition to the US Ambassador to Yemen, Gerald Feierstein, calling for Yemenis at Guantanamo to be sent home and for US drone strikes in Yemen to end. At this writing, 8,300 people have signed. I hope that by the time I deliver it in Sanaa next week, more than 10,000 people will have signed.

I'm not under any illusions that these demands are going to be met immediately. But here are three things that, following President Obama's speech, I claim are realistic goals for reforming the former "Global War on Terror" in Yemen in the next six months:

1. Send home all 56 Yemenis at Guantanamo who have been cleared for release by the US government. Eight-six of the 166 prisoners at Guantanamo - 52 percent - have been cleared for transfer. Fifty-six of the 86 cleared for transfer - 65 percent - are Yemenis. So we could reduce the number of prisoners who have been cleared for transfer by 65 percent just by sending home the Yemenis cleared for transfer; we could reduce the number of prisoners at Guantanamo overall by 34 percent just by sending home the Yemenis who have been cleared for transfer. If you count the evil of Guantanamo by the number of men imprisoned there, we can reduce the evil of Guantanamo by a third just by sending home the Yemenis who have been cleared for transfer.

2. Transfer control of any drone strikes in Yemen from the CIA to the US military, so that essential information about the operation of this policy can enter the public domain. In particular, it will enable us to see whether the policy fully complies with US and international law, what the impact of the policy is on innocent civilians, and what steps the United States is taking to redress the grievances of innocent civilians harmed by the policy.

3. End "signature" drone strikes in Yemen targeted against unknown people, based on intelligence suggesting "terrorist-like" behavior that would never pass muster in a court of law.

I claim that these are realistic short-term goals because many people think that President Obama has already promised to do them. Regardless of whether he really has so promised, I claim that with sufficient public pressure and attention, an ambiguous promise will be good enough to reach our destination.

If you want to add your voice to my attempt to redeem President Obama's promise in Yemen, you may do so here.

Copyright, Truthout. May not be reprinted without permission.

Robert Naiman

Robert Naiman is policy director at Just Foreign Policy and president of Truthout's board of directors. 


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