March 9, 2011

Government Nerve Gas May Tip Yemen's Revolution

Yemen’s President, Ali Abdullah Saleh, must have an extremely high opinion of his own propaganda machine. Either that or he’s utterly delusional. With the cameras rolling, Saleh deployed military and police units into the protest camp surrounding Sana’a University, leaving an unspecified number of people injured and one dead. Video was uploaded to Al Jazeera and YouTube within hours.

The government subsequently accused protesters of smuggling automatic weapons, hidden among new tents, into the camp. After resisting arrest, according to the government, militants opened fire on police and innocent bystanders.

However Saleh is widely known for his duplicity, and ultimately there's no excuse for indiscriminate and disproportional force. Ammar Nujaim, who helps run a medical tent in the protest camp, added, “They didn’t strike only peaceful protesters, but they attacked our medical staff, many of whom sustained wounds from the electric batons.”

The incident is already considered a turning point in that, for the first time in a month, uniformed soldiers fired live rounds on protesters. While visually shocking, few Yemeni protesters make any distinction between plain clothes “thugs,” considered Saleh loyalists, and state personnel. These lines are past blurred.

No, the real lightning rod appears to be created out of nerve gas.

Although this information also remains unconfirmed, multiple doctors have described symptoms consistent with some form of chemical agent. Nujaim, a field doctor who works for Islamic Relief, documented, “The material in this gas makes people convulse for hours. It paralyzes them. They couldn’t move at all. We tried to give them oxygen but it didn’t work.”

“We are seeing symptoms in the patient’s nerves, not in their respiratory systems. I’m 90% sure its nerve gas and not tear gas that was used,” said Sami Zaid, a doctor at the Science and Technology Hospital in Sana'a.

Mohammad Al-Sheikh, a pathologist at the same hospital, warned, “We have never seen tear gas cause these symptoms. We fear it may be a dangerous gas that is internationally forbidden.”

One victim, Majid Al-Awaj, awoke to the immediate vow that Saleh’s crackdown will strengthen the revolution against him, both locally and internationally: “We demand that Saleh be tried by the International Criminal Court.”

It’s difficult to believe Saleh’s actions aren’t connected to Muammar Gaddafi’s ongoing war against Libya's opposition - that he sees U.S. reluctance to act and is growing bolder in the belief that he’s untouchable in Washington. But, if reports of nerve gas are true, Saleh has woefully miscalculated the reach of his state media and Washington’s ability to prop him up. Try as U.S. officials have to stay silent on Yemen, President Barack Obama and his Nobel are now staring at an international war crime.

As usual the White House remained silent while the State Department issued typically hollow condemnation. State spokesman Mark Toner "called on both sides to show restraint," playing into Saleh's narrative, and warned. "We urge the government of Yemen to investigate and hold accountable those who appear to have utilized excessive force."

You mean Saleh.

Mirroring his ticking clock, it’s only a matter of time before Washington loses its cover of al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP). America cannot hide behind AQAP’s threats upon the homeland while Yemenis come under direct attack from their own government.

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