US killed civilians in Yemen attack: Amnesty
Evidence of cluster bomb use
A U.S. cruise missile carrying cluster bombs was behind a December attack in Yemen that killed 55 people, most of them civilians, Amnesty International said.
The human rights group says it has evidence that points to U.S. involvement in airstrikes on suspected al-Qaida hideouts in Yemen late last year, and criticizes Washington for allegedly using cluster munitions and not taking precautions to avoid civilian casualties. The group is also urging the United States to acknowledge role it played in the attack
There are differing accounts of the Dec. 17 attack in the al-Majalah area of the southern Yemeni province of Abyan. Yemeni security officials originally said 34 al-Qaida militants were killed, although a Yemeni parliamentary committee later said in its report on the strike that 41 civilians were killed in the attack as well as militants.
After the attack, Yemen's defense ministry had claimed responsibility for it without mentioning a U.S. role, and Washington has not acknowledged a role in it. However, U.S. officials, speaking on conditions of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue, acknowledged U.S. involvement in the bombing.
In Washington, Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman referred questions on the Dec. 17 strike to the Yemeni government. But he also commended San'a for "dealing with the al-Qaida threat in their nation" and said the U.S. strongly supports action against the terror group in Yemen.
Cluster bombs concerns
In a statement released Monday, Amnesty said that it has five photographs apparently taken after the attack that indicate the use of cruise missiles and cluster munitions. The group said it was very worried by the evidence that cluster bombs had been used.
The fact that so many of the victims were actually women and children indicates that the attack was in fact grossly irresponsible, particularly given the likely use of cluster munitions," said Philip Luther, Deputy Director of Amnesty International's Middle East and North Africa Program.
Copies of the photographs provided by Amnesty show twisted scraps of what appear to be missiles fragments. The group does not say how it obtained the photographs, and their authenticity could not be immediately verified.
"Based on the evidence provided by these photographs, the U.S. government must disclose what role it played in al-Ma'jalah attack,” Luther said. "A military strike of this kind against alleged militants without an attempt to detain them is at the very least unlawful”.
The New York Times reported shortly after the attack that the United States had given military hardware, intelligence and other support to Yemeni forces involved in the raids.
The United States and Yemen have not yet signed the Convention on Cluster Munitions, a treaty designed to comprehensively ban such weapons which is due to enter into force on 1 August, 2010. At least 30 countries have ratified the new international convention.
A military strike of this kind against alleged militants without an attempt to detain them is at the very least unlawful
Philip Luther, Amnesty International