The International Reporting (and Life) Adventures of Vivian Salama

Archive for the ‘C.I.A.’ Category

How American Drone Strikes are Devastating Yemen

Posted by vmsalama on April 14, 2014

Anyone who knows me, knows Yemen holds a special place in my heart. Its diverse landscape is breathtaking and its rich history is virtually untouched after centuries. But what I love most about Yemen is, hands down, its people (its food comes in a distant second!) They smile from inside, even though they face a great deal of adversity, militants roam freely by land and foreign drones hover above them. This report, from my latest visit to Yemen, explores that latter phenomenon — U.S. drones — and argues that the their existence alone is causing profound psychological detriment to a nation. (photos in the piece are also by me)

How American Drone Strikes are Devastating Yemen

On the ground in a country where unmanned missile attacks are a terrifyingly regular occurrence

By Vivian Salama
April 14, 2014


….As the sun began to set on that fateful winter day, the line of SUVs and pick-ups, decorated with simple ribbons and bows for the [wedding], set off for its 22-mile trip. But as the procession came to a standstill to wait on some lagging vehicles, some of the tribesmen claim the faint humming sound they typically heard from planes overhead fell silent.The emptiness was soon filled with the unthinkable. “Missiles showered on our heads,” Abdullah says, moving his hands frenetically. “I started to scream and shout for my cousins. Anyone who was still alive jumped out of their cars.”

Four hellfires, striking seconds apart, pierced the sky, tearing through the fourth vehicle in the procession. When it was over, 12 men were dead, Saleh among them. At least 15 others were wounded according to survivors and activists, including Warda, whose eye was grazed by shrapnel and whose wedding dress was torn to shreds.

The blast was so intense that it reverberated all the way to al-Abusereema, where the groom’s brother Aziz waited for the guests. “I called some people to ask what was that explosion and somebody told me it was the drone,” Aziz recalls. “It was the most awful feeling.”

“As we were driving to the site,” he continues, “I felt myself going deeper and deeper into darkness. That is the feeling of a person who sees his brothers, cousins, relatives and friends dead by one strike, without reason.”

“We are just poor Bedouins,” says Abdullah, now pounding his hands against his chest. “We know nothing about Al Qaeda. But the people are so scared now. Whenever they hear a car or truck, they think of the drones and the strike. They feel awful whenever they see a plane.”…. (Click here to read more)

The wedding of Abdullah Mabkhut al-Amri to Warda last December made headlines around the world after it ended in tragedy./By Vivian Salama

The wedding of Abdullah Mabkhut al-Amri to Warda last December made headlines around the world after it ended in tragedy./By Vivian Salama

Oum Salim sits in her home majlis in Khawlan holding a photo of her late son Salim Hussein Ahmed Jamil, her daughter Asmaa, 7, by her side. /By Vivian Salama

Oum Salim sits in her home majlis in Khawlan holding a photo of her late son Salim Hussein Ahmed Jamil, her daughter Asmaa, 7, by her side. /By Vivian Salama

Posted in Afghanistan, Al-Qaeda, American, Arab, Arab Spring, Awlaki, C.I.A., dictatorship, Drones, Economy, Education, Elections, Employment, Environment, Foreign Policy, Freedom of Speech, Human Rights, Insurgency, Intervention, Islam, Jihad, Middle East, military, niqab, Obama, Pakistan, Politics, Poverty, PTSD, Religion, Saudi Arabia, Signature Strikes, Social Media, Somalia, South Yemen, Terrorism, Warda, Yemen | 8 Comments »

Living in Terror Under a Drone-Filled Sky in Yemen

Posted by vmsalama on April 29, 2013

Children fear “planes that shoot” as communities grieve lost loved ones.
APR 29 2013

A small house, once made of large cement blocks, is reduced to rubble in a sea of untouched homes and shops in Jaar, a town in South Yemen’s Abyaan governorate. There are no signs of life where that house once stood — no photos, furniture, and certainly no people left behind. In May 2011, the house was struck by a drone — American, the locals say. Some believe the sole occupant, a man named Anwar Al-Arshani, may have been linked to Al Qaeda, although he kept to himself, so no one knows for sure. As Al-Arshani’s house smoldered from the powerful blow, townspeople frantically rushed to inspect the damage and look for survivors. And then, just as the crowd swelled, a second missile fired. Locals say 24 people were killed that day, all of them allegedly innocent civilians.

Eighteen-year-old Muneer Al-Asy was among them. His mother Loul says she knows nothing about America — not of its democracy or politics or people or values. All she knows is that it killed her son. She cannot read and does not own a television. Like many in her village, she says Al-Qaeda is “very bad,” but the thought of her youngest son being killed by an American missile haunts her dreams at night. She screams in fury at the people who took her son: “criminals!” She rocks anxiously back and forth on her sole piece of furniture — a long cushion in her single-room home — recalling the day her son was “martyred” by a U.S. drone. “I am like a blind person now,” says Loul. “Muneer was my eyes.”

Anwar Al-Arshani's home/Photo by Vivian Salama

Anwar Al-Arshani’s home/Photo by Vivian Salama

Thousands of miles from Washington, where the debate rages on over the moral and legal implications of using unmanned aerial vehicles for lethal targeting, the names and faces of many of the victims paints a somber picture. Some are fathers who can no longer buy food and medicine for their children. Some are kids whose only crime in life was skipping out on studies to play soccer with friends. Some are expectant mothers who were simply in the wrong place at the wrong time. As the U.S. focuses attention on the successful targeting of names on the notorious “kill list,” the number of innocent civilians killed by U.S. drones on the rise — threatening to destroy families, spark resentment, and fuel Al-Qaeda recruitment.

While strikes in Pakistan have been recorded since at least June 2004, drones have become more common in Yemen in recent years, used to weed out and eliminate members of Al Qaeda’s notorious Arabian Peninsula network (AQAP). AQAP has been linked to recent schemes including the foiled 2012 underwear bomb plot, as well as for parcel bombs intercepted before reaching synagogues in Chicago in 2010. The drone program has seen some successes, including strikes on high-profile targets like Saeed al-Shihri, a Saudi citizen who co-founded AQAP, and senior operatives Samir Khan and Anwar al-Awlaki. The latter was a preacher who often delivered his provocative sermons in English and, like Khan, was at one time an American citizen.

However, with the growing use of so-called “signature strikes” — attacks against suspected but unidentified targets — there have been increasingly troubling signs that many victims are deemed guilty by association. Having committed no crime, their names not part of any list and in some cases, not even known. (click here to read more….)

Posted in Abyaan, Al-Qaeda, American, Arab, Arab Spring, Arabic, Awlaki, C.I.A., corruption, Drones, Economy, Elections, Foreign Policy, Freedom of Speech, Guantanamo Bay, Human Rights, Insurgency, Islam, Jihad, Ma'rib, Middle East, military, Politics, PTSD, Religion, Saudi Arabia, Signature Strikes, South Yemen, Terrorism, United States, Yemen | Leave a Comment »

Mubarak’s Spy Chief, Omar Suleiman, Dies

Posted by vmsalama on July 19, 2012

The Daily Beast

July 19, 2012

By Vivian Salama

In less than a day, two of the Arab world’s most renowned spooks are dead.

Hours after the assassination of Syria’s former intelligence chief Assef Shawkat in a suicide bombing, the longtime head of the Egyptian mukhabarrat(intelligence) Omar Suleiman has died, sparking finger-pointing and conspiracy theories on the streets and tweets over who to blame.

Suleiman, 76, who briefly served as the first and last vice president under Hosni Mubarak during last year’s revolution, suffered from cardiac problems triggered by lung disease, state-run Middle East News Agency reported. His health took a turn for the worse about three weeks ago when he traveled to a Cleveland hospital for treatment, MENA reported. An aid told Reuters that he “was fine” shortly before his death.

“Hell is having a mukhabarrat party,” read one Tweet shortly after the news went viral.

During the 2011 uprisings that sought to topple Mubarak, Suleiman became an internationally recognized figure as the newly-named vice president with decades of hands-on experience on national security issues. However, long before the revolution, he was a household name across the Middle East for his role as head of Egypt’s infamous intelligence apparatus. Born in the Upper Egypt town of Qena, Suleiman enlisted in the army in 1954, and later received training at the Soviet Union’s Frunze Military Academy. He served in the military during Egypt’s 1962 involvement in the North Yemen war, as well as in the 1967 and 1973 Arab-Israeli wars. In 1986, he was named the deputy head of Egypt’s General Intelligence Service and climbed through the ranks, reaching the top spot in 1993. (click here to read more…)

Posted in Arab, Arab Spring, C.I.A., Clinton, dictatorship, Egypt, Elections, Hosni Mubarak, Middle East, Mubarak, Omar Suleiman, Terrorism, United States | Leave a Comment »

C.I.A. Destroyed 2 Tapes Showing Interrogations

Posted by vmsalama on December 7, 2007

What do you all think of this?  Should the C.I.A. be allowed to destroy evidence of interrogations if it might jeopardize the identity of their covert agents… or do you think it’s just a cover up?  Let me know!

C.I.A. Destroyed 2 Tapes Showing Interrogations

WASHINGTON, Dec. 6 — The Central Intelligence Agency in 2005 destroyed at least two videotapes documenting the interrogation of two Qaeda operatives in the agency’s custody, a step it took in the midst of Congressional and legal scrutiny about its secret detention program, according to current and former government officials.

The videotapes showed agency operatives in 2002 subjecting terrorism suspects — including Abu Zubaydah, the first detainee in C.I.A. custody — to severe interrogation techniques. The tapes were destroyed in part because officers were concerned that video showing harsh interrogation methods could expose agency officials to legal risks, several officials said.

In a statement to employees on Thursday, Gen. Michael V. Hayden, the C.I.A. director, said that the decision to destroy the tapes was made “within the C.I.A.” and that they were destroyed to protect the safety of undercover officers and because they no longer had intelligence value.

The destruction of the tapes raises questions about whether agency officials withheld information from Congress, the courts and the Sept. 11 commission about aspects of the program.

The recordings were not provided to a federal court hearing the case of the terrorism suspect Zacarias Moussaoui or to the Sept. 11 commission, which was appointed by President Bush and Congress, and which had made formal requests to the C.I.A. for transcripts and other documentary evidence taken from interrogations of agency prisoners.

The disclosures about the tapes are likely to reignite the debate over laws that allow the C.I.A. to use interrogation practices more severe than those allowed to other agencies. A Congressional conference committee voted late Wednesday to outlaw those interrogation practices, but the measure has yet to pass the full House and Senate and is likely to face a veto from Mr. Bush.

The New York Times informed the intelligence agency on Wednesday evening that it was preparing to publish an article about the destruction of the tapes. In his statement to employees on Thursday, General Hayden said that the agency had acted “in line with the law” and that he was informing C.I.A. employees “because the press has learned” about the matter.

General Hayden’s statement said that the tapes posed a “serious security risk” and that if they had become public they would have exposed C.I.A. officials “and their families to retaliation from Al Qaeda and its sympathizers.”

Current and former intelligence officials said that the decision to destroy the tapes was made by Jose A. Rodriguez Jr., who was the head of the Directorate of Operations, the agency’s clandestine service. Mr. Rodriguez could not be reached Thursday for comment.

Two former intelligence officials said that Porter J. Goss, the director of the agency at the time, was not told that the tapes would be destroyed and was angered to learn that they had been.

Through a spokeswoman, Mr. Goss declined to comment on the matter.

In his statement, General Hayden said leaders of Congressional oversight committees had been fully briefed about the existence of the tapes and told in advance of the decision to destroy them. But the two top members of the House Intelligence Committee in 2005 said Thursday that they had not been notified in advance of the decision to destroy the tapes.

A spokesman for Representative Peter Hoekstra, Republican of Michigan, who was the committee’s chairman between 2004 and 2006, said that Mr. Hoekstra was “never briefed or advised that these tapes existed, or that they were going to be destroyed.”

The spokesman, Jamal Ware, also said that Mr. Hoekstra “absolutely believes that the full committee should have been informed and consulted before the C.I.A. did anything with the tapes.”

Representative Jane Harman of California, the top Democrat on the committee between 2002 and 2006, said that she told C.I.A. officials several years ago that destroying any interrogation tapes would be a “bad idea.”

“How in the world could the C.I.A. claim that these tapes were not relevant to a legislative inquiry?” she said. “This episode reinforces my view that the C.I.A. should not be conducting a separate interrogations program.”

In both 2003 and 2005 C.I.A. lawyers told prosecutors in the Moussaoui case that the C.I.A. did not possess recordings of interrogations sought by the judge. Mr. Moussaoui’s lawyers had hoped that records of the interrogations might provide exculpatory evidence for Mr. Moussaoui, showing that the Qaeda detainees did not know Mr. Moussaoui and clearing him of involvement in the Sept. 11, 2001, plot.

Paul Gimigliano, a C.I.A. spokesman, said that the court had sought tapes of “specific, named terrorists whose comments might have a bearing on the Moussaoui case” and that the videotapes destroyed were not of those individuals. Intelligence officials identified Abu Zubaydah as one of the detainees whose interrogation tape was destroyed, but the other detainee’s name was not disclosed.

General Hayden has said publicly that information obtained through the C.I.A.’s detention and interrogation program has been the best source of intelligence for operations against Al Qaeda. In a speech last year, President Bush said that information from Mr. Zubaydah had helped lead to the capture in 2003 of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the mastermind of the Sept. 11 attacks.

Staff members of the Sept. 11 commission, which completed its work in 2004, expressed surprise when they were told that interrogation videotapes had existed until 2005.

“The commission did formally request material of this kind from all relevant agencies, and the commission was assured that we had received all the material responsive to our request,” said Philip D. Zelikow, who served as executive director of the Sept. 11 commission and later as a senior counselor to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.

“No tapes were acknowledged or turned over, nor was the commission provided with any transcript prepared from recordings,” he said.

Daniel Marcus, a law professor at American University who served as general counsel for the Sept. 11 commission and was involved in the discussions about interviews with Qaeda leaders, said he had heard nothing about any tapes being destroyed.

If tapes were destroyed, he said, “it’s a big deal, it’s a very big deal,” because it could amount to obstruction of justice to withhold evidence being sought in criminal or fact-finding investigations.

Mr. Gimigliano, the C.I.A. spokesman, said that the agency “went to great lengths to meet the requests of the 9/11 commission,” and that the C.I.A. had preserved the tapes until the commission ended its work in case members requested the tapes.

Several current and former intelligence officials were interviewed for this article over a period of several weeks. All requested anonymity because information about the tapes had been classified until General Hayden issued his statement on Thursday acknowledging that they had been destroyed.

The C.I.A. program that included the detention and interrogation of terrorism suspects began after the capture of Mr. Zubaydah in March 2002. The C.I.A. has said that the Justice Department and other elements of the executive branch reviewed and approved the use of a set of harsh techniques before they were used on any prisoners, and that the Justice Department issued a classified legal opinion in August 2002 that provided explicit authorization for their use.

Some members of Congress have since sought to ban some of the techniques, saying that they amounted to torture, which is prohibited under American law. But President Bush, who revealed the existence of the C.I.A. program in September 2006, has defended the techniques as legal, and has said they have proven beneficial in obtaining critical intelligence information.

Some of the harshest techniques, including waterboarding, which induces a feeling of drowning and near-suffocation, were used on several of the first Qaeda operatives captured by the C.I.A., including Abu Zubaydah. But intelligence officials have said that waterboarding is no longer on an approved list spelled out in a classified executive order that was issued by the White House this year.

In his statement, General Hayden said the tapes were originally made to ensure that agency employees acted in accordance with “established legal and policy guidelines.” He said the agency stopped videotaping interrogations in 2002.

“The tapes were meant chiefly as an additional, internal check on the program in its early stages,” he said. He said they were destroyed only after the agency’s Office of the General Counsel and Office of the Inspector General had examined them and determined that they showed lawful methods of questioning.

Tom Malinowski, Washington director of Human Rights Watch, said General Hayden’s claim that the tapes were destroyed to protect C.I.A. officers “is not credible.”

“Millions of documents in C.I.A. archives, if leaked, would identify C.I.A. officers,” Mr. Malinowski said. “The only difference here is that these tapes portray potentially criminal activity. They must have understood that if people saw these tapes, they would consider them to show acts of torture, which is a felony offense.”

It has been widely reported that Abu Zubaydah was subjected to several tough physical tactics. But the current and former intelligence officials who described the decision to destroy the videotapes said that C.I.A. officers had judged that the release of photos or videos depicting his interrogation would provoke a strong reaction.

In exchanges involving the Moussaoui case, the C.I.A. notified the United States attorney’s office in Alexandria, Va., in September that it had discovered two videotapes and one audio tape that it had not previously acknowledged to the court, but made no mention of any tapes destroyed in 2005.

The acknowledgment was spelled out in a letter sent in October by federal prosecutors that amended the C.I.A.’s previous declarations involving videotapes. The letter is heavily redacted, with sentences identifying the detainees blacked out.

Signed by the United States attorney, Chuck Rosenberg, the letter states that the C.I.A.’s search for interrogation tapes “appears to be complete.”

Mr. Moussaoui was convicted last year and sentenced to life in prison.

Representative Rush Holt of New Jersey, a Democratic member of the House Intelligence Committee, has been pushing legislation in Congress to have all detainee interrogations videotaped so officials can refer to the tapes multiple times to glean better information.

Mr. Holt said he had been told many times that the C.I.A. did not record the interrogation of detainees. “When I would ask them whether they had reviewed the tapes to better understand the intelligence, they said, ‘What tapes?’,” he said.

Eric Lichtblau and Scott Shane contributed reporting.

Posted in C.I.A., Terrorism, United States | 1 Comment »