Yemen's 8-year-old spy & American ally?
In a gripping and disturbing Atlantic Monthly article, Yemen scholar and author Gregory Johnsen writes of an 8-year-old Yemeni who helped authorities target, Adnan al-Qadhi, a politically-connected figure that the U.S. wanted dead.
Al-Qadhi was killed in a drone strike in Nov. 7, 2012.
Any articles that sheds light on the U.S.'s secretive drone program or the Obama administration's "kill list" are important as it seems good journalism and lawsuits are what it takes to force answers.
But Johnsen's investigation is particularly important for a few reasons.
The most obvious, is the fact that a child named Barq al-Kulaybi, whose whereabouts now are unknown, may have been used as a spy. In a Charles Dickens-esque storyline, Barq, is reportedly a poor street boy that Qadhi has given shelter. Knowing their relationship, Yemeni authorities track down the boy's father and convince the father, and Barq, that they will be paid a handsome fee to plant a tracking device in Qadhi's pocket, to guide a U.S. drone.
The boy's father is later captured by Yemen's Al Qaeda branch and executed. Barq is taken too, but his fate remains unclear.
Johnsen doesn't suggest that the U.S. knew of the plan, but notes, that the U.S. is well aware of Yemen's use of children in conflicts, citing the practice in its annual Trafficking in Persons report. And he writes: "In 2008, Congress passed the Child Soldiers Prevention Act, which prohibits the United States from financing the militaries of countries that use child soldiers, or providing training to those militaries. Every year since the law took effect in 2010, President Obama has signed a waiver exempting Yemen. The U.S. has cited both 'national interests' and a belief that continued engagement with countries like Yemen could 'solve this problem.' Yemen is the only country that has received a full exemption each year."
There's also the question of why kill Qadhi when he could have easily been captured? It was a question Qadhi's relatives asked McClatchy journalist Adam Baron when he reported on the attack in 2012. He writes: "American counterterrorism officials have painted drone strikes as a tool of last resort, utilized only when targets represent an imminent threat and are nearly impossible to take out by other means. But people in Beit al Ahmar say it’s hard to argue that Qadhi’s capture would have been out of the question."
Qadhi had been arrested before. He wasn't hiding. He was still listed as an officer in Yemen's military.
That question is crucial as the number of drone attacks in Yemen have increased dramatically in the last few weeks and the U.S. has reportedly "expanded the scope of people we could go after" in light of an unspecified worldwide terror alert.
Johnsen's article can be found online here: http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2013/09/did-an-8-year-old-spy-for-america/309429/
More from Mark Bowden in the Atlantic Monthly's cover story on the drone program, "The Killing Machines": http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2013/09/the-killing-machines-how-to-think-about-drones/309434/
Michelle Shephard is the Star's National Security correspondent and author of "Decade of Fear: Reporting from Terrorism's Grey Zone." She is a three-time recipient of Canada's National Newspaper Award. Follow her on Twitter @shephardm