Washington — The YPP and eleven other organizations, along with seven prominent legal experts, delivered a letter to the acting US attorney general* this week urging the Department of Justice to investigate the actions of American mercenaries operating in Yemen. According to an investigation published last month by BuzzFeed, American and foreign employees of a US-based military contractor planned and carried out assassinations of civilians in Aden, on behalf of the United Arab Emirates. These acts, as described by the perpetrators themselves, constitute serious crimes under US law.
The letter was also delivered to the attorneys general of the state of Delaware, where the military contractor in question is incorporated, and New Jersey, where the conspirators claim to have planned some of their attacks. Copies were sent also to the Department of Justice’s Human Rights and Special Prosecutions Section.
We join the other signatories in demanding a full and transparent investigation, and we hope to see those responsible for these crimes prosecuted to the full extent of the law. The full text of the letter is below.
Dear Acting Attorney General Whitaker:
We, the undersigned organizations and legal experts, are writing to request that the Department of Justice open a full and transparent investigation into the alleged actions of American security contractors operating in Yemen on behalf of foreign governments. An investigation published by BuzzFeed on October 16, 2018 reported that employees of a company incorporated in the United States--including both private US citizens and at least one individual currently serving in the United States armed forces--have carried out assassinations of civilians in Aden, Yemen while in the employ of the United Arab Emirates. The report is based on the accounts of two of these mercenaries, who freely admit to planning and carrying out assassinations, as well as at least one indiscriminate bombing intended to kill multiple people. The actions described in the report, if true, and absent exculpatory evidence, would likely constitute crimes under US law.
According to the information reported by Buzzfeed, none of the targets or victims were militants engaged in combat against the UAE, nor is there any evidence that the acts carried out by these mercenaries were authorized by the US government. Instead it appears that the UAE targeted these individuals because of their political affiliations. Specifically, many if not all of the targets were affiliated with Yemen’s Islah Party, a legal and officially-constituted political party that has been represented in Yemen’s parliament since 1990. Islah Party members serve in the internationally-recognized Yemeni government, which is supported by the United States, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE. Islah has been a key player in the Saudi- and Emirati-led war against the rebel Houthi Movement since the Houthi coup of 2014. Though they fight on the same side, the UAE government views Islah with suspicion because of the party’s historical ties with the Muslim Brotherhood, which the UAE considers a terrorist organization. But the Islah Party has been, since its founding, a conglomeration of several different political trends and interest groups in addition to Brotherhood members. In fact, after a 2017 summit between Emirati, Saudi, and Islah leaders intended to diffuse intra-coalition tensions, UAE Foreign Minister Dr. Anwar Gargash announced that Islah had agreed to sever “its ties with the Muslim Brotherhood terrorist organization.”
Regardless of the UAE’s justifications for opposing Islah, US law is clear about actions such as those described in the BuzzFeed report. Two specific US federal criminal statutes apply to such cases: the War Crimes Act (18 U.S.C. 2441) and Conspiracy to Kill, Kidnap, Maim, or Injure in a Foreign Country (18 U.S.C. 956). The War Crimes Act makes it a crime for a US citizen to commit certain violations of international humanitarian law, including murder. The Act defines “murder” to include “the act of a person who intentionally kills, or conspires or attempts to kill, or kills whether intentionally or unintentionally in the course of committing any other offense under this subsection, one or more persons taking no active part in the hostilities….”
Conspiracy to Kill, Kidnap, Maim, or Injure in a Foreign Country (18 U.S.C. 956) makes it a crime to conspire to kill a person in a foreign country. The mercenary company in question is incorporated in Delaware and founded by Abraham Golan, a Pennsylvania resident. According to their own statements, Golan and former US Navy SEAL Isaac Gilmore recruited a dozen men, including US special operations veterans. The team allegedly discussed the parameters of their employment while “gathered at a hotel near Teterboro Airport in New Jersey” before traveling to the UAE, meaning that their conspiracy took place within the jurisdiction of the United States. By their own admissions, Golan and his partners continued to recruit US nationals after beginning their operations in Yemen, by which time they clearly had full knowledge of the nature of their contract.
These revelations would be cause for great concern at any time. But coming in the midst of a brutal and devastating war in Yemen that has brought about the worst humanitarian catastrophe in the world, and in the context of ongoing counterterrorism cooperation between the US and UAE, they are especially troubling. All parties to the war in Yemen have committed violations of human rights and international humanitarian law, according to United Nations investigators. The UAE in particular has been accused of killing civilians and torturing detainees. Among Yemeni officials and citizens in the provisional capital of Aden, the campaign of assassinations of Islah members has been one of the most controversial and destabilizing aspects of the war. If the BuzzFeed report is accurate, it suggests that the UAE is carrying out crimes in Yemen beyond what is publicly known, and doing so with the help of American citizens. The American people and the people of Yemen deserve to know the truth of these matters, and any Americans involved in these crimes must be held to account.
As organizations and experts concerned with US federal and international law and human rights, we ask that the DoJ’s Human Rights and Special Prosecutions Section investigate these alleged incidents and the contractors involved to determine the extent of American participation in illegal actions in Yemen.
1. Action Corps NYC
2. Amnesty International USA
3. Chicago Area Peace Action
4. The Human Rights Clinic at Columbia University Law School
5. Justice for Muslims Collective
6. Mwatana Organization for Human Rights
7. Open Society Foundations
8. Stanford Law School Human Rights Clinic
9. University Network for Human Rights
10. United for Peace and Justice
12. The Yemen Peace Project
13. Amna Akbar, Associate Professor of Law, Moritz College of Law, The Ohio State University
14. Matthew Bolton, Director of the International Disarmament Institute and Associate Professor of Political Science, Pace University
15. Bruce Fein, Fein & DelValle PLLC
16. Katherine Franke, Sulzbacher Professor of Law, Columbia University
17. Rebecca Hamilton, Assistant Professor of Law, Washington College of Law, American University
18. Alex Moorehead, Lecturer-in-Law; Director, Program on Human Rights, Counterterrorism, and Armed Conflict, Human Rights Institute, Columbia Law School
19. Gabor Rona, Visiting Professor of Law, Cardozo Law School; Former Chair of the UN Working Group on Mercenaries
*This letter was originally delivered to Attorney General Jeff Sessions on November 5. After Sessions’ resignation and replacement on November 7, the letter was re-delivered.