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Executive Order Could Stifle Dissent Against US Policy in Yemen

A strange executive order by the White House would seemingly apply to anyone, including US citizens, who in the executive’s view “threatens the peace, security, or stability of Yemen.” The order would seek to freeze the assets of individuals engaged in this behavior. Here’s an excerpt from the EO:

All property and interests in property that are in the United States, that hereafter come within the United States, or that are or hereafter come within the possession or control of any United States person, including any foreign branch, of the following persons are blocked and may not be transferred, paid, exported, withdrawn, or otherwise dealt in: any person determined by the Secretary of the Treasury, in consultation with the Secretary of State, to:

(a) 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 agreement of November 23, 2011, between the Government of Yemen and those in opposition to it, which provides for a peaceful transition of power in Yemen, or that obstruct the political process in Yemen;

(b) be a political or military leader of an entity that has engaged in the acts described in subsection (a) of this section;

(c) have materially assisted, sponsored, or provided financial, material, or technological support for, or goods or services to or in support of, the acts described in subsection (a) of this section or any person whose property and interests in property are blocked pursuant to this order; or

(d) be owned or controlled by, or to have acted or purported to act for or on behalf of, directly or indirectly, any person whose property and interests in property are blocked pursuant to this order.

As Marcy Wheeler points out, this language is so vague that it could apply to US citizens, and would apply to anyone “even thinking of spoiling the transition” to democracy in Yemen, according to the Washington Post.

Yemen’s longtime leader, Ali Abdullah Saleh, has stepped down, and a new government is in the midst of coming to power. However, while Saleh is seen as the main threat to peace and stability in Yemen, this EO doesn’t target him, per se. In fact, it could easily target dissenters of the new government’s actions, and even dissenters of US counter-terrorism operations in Yemen. Here’s Marcy:

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?

This is sadly not a new executive order, according to the White House. They applied it to Ivory Coast and Somalia in the past. Needless to say, it did not herald a return to peace and stability in those countries. In a subsequent post, Marcy notes that the Yemen EO allows for the payment of funds from the US government or its contractors to anyone in violation of the order. In other words, CIA can pay militants on any side in Yemen as long as it furthers their counter-terrorism goals.

The Press Secretary’s statement on the EO is here.

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David Dayen

David Dayen