The Jeremy Scahill Yemen Executive Order
Marcy Wheeler, EmptyWheel, May 16 2012
For the record, I don’t think the Obama administration would be so brazen as to freeze Jeremy Scahill’s assets because he reported critically on Obama’s Yemen policy. But the Executive Order they’re rolling out today is reportedly written so broadly so as to make something like that possible.
The unusual order, which administration officials said also targets US citizens who engage in activity deemed to threaten Yemen’s security or political stability, is the first issued for Yemen that does not directly relate to counter-terrorism. Unlike similar measures authorizing terrorist designations and sanctions, the new order does not include a list of names or organizations already determined to be in violation. Instead, one official said, it is designed as a “deterrent” to “make clear to those who are even thinking of spoiling the transition” to think again. The order provides criteria to take action against people who the Sec Treasury, in consultation with the Sec State, determines have “engaged in acts that directly or indirectly threaten the peace, security or stability of Yemen, such as acts that obstruct the implementation of the Nov 23 2011 agreement between the Government of Yemen and those in opposition to it, which provides for a peaceful transition of power, or that obstruct the political process in Yemen.” It covers those who “have materially assisted, sponsored or provided financial, material or technological support” for the acts described or any person whose property has already been blocked, as well as those who have acted on behalf of such people.
The explanation this anonymous official seems to have given Karen DeYoung is that the order is a way to make sure Ali Abdullah Saleh’s family butts out of affairs in Yemen (which would work, given that he presumably does have significant assets in the US). Using Saleh’s wealth as a way to try to keep him out of Yemeni politics is a nice idea (though the agreement itself could have done more to enforce this). But Saleh’s not a US citizen. So why explicitly include US citizens in the order?
Moreover, since the language borrows material support language from terrorist sanctions, and since terrorist material support extends to First Amendment protected activities (as Tarek Mehanna knows well), and since Obama has already made sure a journalist remains jailed in Yemen, then what protection is there for people who say that using signature strikes in Yemen is boneheaded, or suggesting that investing all our energies in Saleh’s Vice President doesn’t really constitute a meaningful solution in Yemen? And to make things worse, the anonymous official tries to tell DeYoung that this sanction is not the first of its kind. It was used twice before: in 2006 in Cote d’Ivoire and in 2009 in Somalia. That is, precisely this kind of sanction has been used twice, and has twice failed to do anything to bring about meaningful stability. But the single most troubling aspect of this EO is that is guaranteed to be selectively enforced. After all, the Saudis aren’t exactly great friends of “political processes” anywhere, particularly in their backyard, and surely they’re waiting to bomb more Houthis. Yet what are the chances that any Administration would freeze the very significant assets of Saudi citizens in the US, even those operating outside official channels? Jay Carney’s statement on it emphasizes our cooperation with the GCC, which I guess is yet another guarantee the Saudis will never be sanctioned for intervening in Yemen in unproductive ways.
Today, Obama signed an Executive Order authorizing sanctions to be imposed on individuals and entities who threaten the peace, security, and stability of Yemen by disrupting the political transition. This Executive Order will allow the US to take action against those who seek to undermine Yemen’s transition and the Yemeni peoples’ clear desire for change. The President took this step because he believes that the legitimate aspirations of the Yemeni people, along with the urgent humanitarian and security challenges, cannot be addressed if political progress stalls. Yemen’s transition represents an important step forward for the Yemeni people, who deserve the opportunity to determine their future. The US strongly supports Yemen’s political transition and will continue to work with our international partners, including the GCC, to help Yemen chart a more secure, democratic, and prosperous path forward.
Obama’s Yemen EO Still Lets Our Spooks Pay the Targets of the EO
Marcy Wheeler, EmptyWheel, May 16 2012
Here’s the Executive Order ostensibly targeting the US assets of those who undermine Yemen’s stability, potentially including US citizens who do so. I’ve been comparing this EO to one of the analogous ones pointed out in Karen DeYoung’s article on the EO: one issued against Somalia in 2010. The EOs are very similar, including the language potentially targeting US citizens. But there are some interesting differences. As DeYoung pointed out, the Yemeni EO, unlike the Somalia one, does not include an annex with named targets, even though the EO itself speaks of “certain members of the Government of Yemen.” As such, this EO seems to be a threat with consequences, not an immediate sanction. The Yemen EO also uses slightly different language in the clause targeting those who materially support those destabilizing the country. Whereas the Somalia EO includes those who provide “logistical” or “technical” support, the Yemen EO includes those who provide “technological” support. So make sure you don’t serve as webmaster for someone Hillary Clinton thinks is destabilizing Yemen. The most interesting difference, IMO, is this clause, which appears in the Yemen EO but does not in the Somalia one.
5. Nothing in section 1 of this order shall prohibit transactions for the conduct of the official business of the USG by employees, grantees, or contractors thereof.
In other words, while Obama doesn’t want you, or Ali Abdullah Saleh’s leave-behinds, or the AP to destabilize Yemen, he reserves the right for US government employees, grantees, or contractors to do so. Which presumably means, as happened in Afghanistan, we are and plan to continue paying some of the people who are in violation of this EO. I wonder. Among all the adjectives we might use to describe the Saudis, do we use “grantee” among them?