This 8-Year-Old US Citizen Was Killed During a US Military Raid in Yemen

January 31st 2017

President Donald Trump will never order the extrajudicial killing of a U.S. citizen, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer told reporters on Tuesday, just 48 hours after a U.S. military raid in Yemen reportedly left an 8-year-old U.S. citizen dead.

As a candidate in 2015 Trump stated that “you have to take out their families,” but Spicer declined to answer when asked if that campaign promise was now White House policy.

“No American will ever be targeted,” Spicer said when asked about the killing of Nawar Anwar al-Awlaki, who NBC News reported was one of “numerous” civilians killed when U.S. forces raided an alleged al-Qaeda cell on Sunday. Nawar’s father, Anwar al-Awlaki, was a U.S. citizen killed in a 2011 U.S. drone strike after the Obama administration determined his extremist propaganda sermons posed a threat to national security. Nawar’s 16-year-old brother, Abdulrahman, was also killed in a 2011 U.S. drone strike, though Obama administration officials said another U.S. citizen, an al-Qaeda operative, was the intended target.

Will Picard, executive director of the Yemen Peace Project in Washington, D.C., told ATTN: there’s no reason to believe the current U.S. administration will be any more hesitant to take out those it perceives as a threat, U.S. citizens or not.

“First, Spicer is saying very categorically, ‘We’ll never target an American citizen,’ but Spicer has shown absolutely no compunction whatsoever about lying to the press corps’ face,” said Picard, “so I wouldn’t take anything he says in that regard very seriously.” Trump has promised to "bomb the hell out of ISIS" and put "America first," which Picard sees at odds with sparing the life of a U.S. citizen abroad who the commander-in-chief believes is a serious threat to national security.

That’s not to say there’s any evidence the Trump administration has thus far deliberately killed a U.S. citizen.

“It’s quite probable they didn’t know she was there,” Picard said of the raid, planning for which began under President Barack Obama, according to the Associated Press.

"I don’t think they care who they kill,” Picard argued. As for Spicer’s “on a whim” comment about killing Americans, “There’s no chance the administration would hold itself to that if they thought they had reason to target a U.S. citizen.”

Amnesty International told ATTN: it was drafting a letter to the Trump administration expressing concern over its policy on extrajudicial killings — when suspected terrorists are targeted and killed without first being convicted of a crime.

If a U.S. citizen is deliberately targeted by the White House, the Trump administration could, like its Democratic predecessor, choose to cite the authorization to use military force passed after the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

The latest U.S. raid in Yemen comes amid a devastating war that began nearly two years ago after Houthi rebels, aligned with the country’s former dictator, ousted the internationally recognized government from the capital, Sana. That prompted Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states, backed by the U.S. military, to launch an air campaign that has killed thousands of civilians, with the United Nations revealing this week that all 10 of the coalition airstrikes it reviewed from last year likely violated international law.

The U.N. has also accused the Saudi-led coalition and Houthi rebels of blocking humanitarian aid in a country where the majority of the population depends on it to live. At least 10,000 civilians have died as a result of the war, the U.N. announced in January, with another 40,000 injured.

yemen-bombingOsamah Abdulrhman/AP Images - apimages.com

While all sides in Yemen’s war are “behaving horrifically,” Picard argues the U.S. could help compel a peaceful resolution by seeking to restrain the Saudis, rather than provide them the intelligence, arms, and other logistical support that allows it to wage its war. He just doesn’t see that as likely under the current administration.

“I’m really very concerned that not only will things keep going the way they have been, but that Trump and his people may try to escalate in Yemen because it plays well domestically,” Picard said. “It’s Yemenis that are dying, but the White House can certainly spin it this way: We’re taking a hard line on Iran,” which is seen as a threat by some members of the new administration and stands accused of arming those fighting Yemen’s internationally recognized government. 

What Trump will do in Yemen is a matter of speculation, though the raid and drone strikes carried out since he took office suggest a de-escalation is not in the cards; indeed, further military cooperation was one of the topics the president recently discussed with Saudi Arabia's King Salman. What can be said, based on reports this week, is that the Trump administration carried out a raid that killed civilians — 15 women and children, according to Yemeni officials — and that one of them was an 8-year-old girl with U.S. citizenship, whether she was targeted or not.

“She is absolutely an American citizen,” Picard said of Nawar Anwar al-Awlaki, citing testimony from her grandfather and other family members. “Or at least she was.”

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