October 22, 2018

Warren Demands Answers on Targeted Killing Operations in Yemen by Former U.S. Servicemembers

Senator Questions DOJ, State Dept. About Troubling Report of U.S. Mercenaries Hired by UAE Government to Assassinate Political Opponents in Yemen

Letter to Attorney General Sessions (PDF) | Letter to Secretary of State Pompeo (PDF)

Washington, DC - United States Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) today sent letters to Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to demand an investigation into and request information about a recent report in BuzzFeed News that describes targeted killing operations in Yemen by former or current U.S. servicemembers hired by the government of the United Arab Emirates (UAE).  The letters, which call into question the legality of these operations in Yemen, also question whether any State Department official endorsed or was aware of these Americans' targeted lethal activities.

The investigative report in Buzzfeed News revealed that the United Arab Emirates in December 2015 hired Spear Operations Group, a private U.S. company that assigned current or former American servicemembers "on a mercenary mission of murky legality to kill prominent clerics and Islamist political figures" in Yemen for profit.  The activities carried out by these American mercenaries reportedly included an attempted bombing of a local party leader in what was reportedly "the first salvo in a string of unsolved assassinations that killed more than two dozen of the group's leaders." According to the founder of Spear Operations Group, "There was a targeted assassination program in Yemen. I was running it. We did it. It was sanctioned by the UAE."

For more than three years, the United States has been providing intelligence and military advice to a military coalition led by Saudi Arabia and the UAE that has been bombing Yemen as part of a proxy war to counter Iran-supported Houthi militias.

In her letter to the Department of Justice, Senator Warren asked a series of questions about the potential legal ramifications of these targeted killing operations and demanded an investigation into whether these American mercenaries violated U.S. law in carrying out these apparent for-profit, lethal activities abroad.

Under the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act, it is a crime punishable by imprisonment up to life for a person located on American soil to conspire with one or more other persons to commit murder abroad. Another statute, the War Crimes Act, makes it a crime for an American to commit, or conspire to commit, murder of individuals who are not actively participating in hostilities in the context of a non-international armed conflict. And Executive Order 12333, signed by President Reagan in December 1981 and currently active, states that "no person employed by or acting on behalf of the United States Government shall engage in or conspire to engage in assassination." 

"I am deeply troubled that the UAE, in the midst of this conflict, reportedly paid a team of American mercenaries to conduct targeted killings, possibly with the knowledge of U.S. government officials," wrote Senator Warren to Attorney General Sessions.

Senator Warren's letter to Secretary of State Pompeo questioned whether State Department officials were aware of these activities in Yemen or in any way authorized them.

"I am also disturbed by the possibility that the U.S. Government may have endorsed, or tacitly allowed current or former servicemembers to engage in this kind of 'militarized contract killing' abroad, despite the apparent applicability of U.S. law to their targeted lethal actions," wrote Senator Warren to Secretary of State Pompeo.

Earlier this month, Senator Warren and Representative Ro Khanna (D-Calif.) authored a joint op-ed in CNN in which they criticized the Trump Administration for continuing to support the Saudi and UAE-led bombing campaign in Yemen and called for more Congressional oversight of these military operations.