An executive order issued by President Obama today authorizes sanctions against people and entities who “obstruct” Yemen’s political transition, the latest sign of the administration’s increased focus on the country.
The order allows the Treasury Department, in consultation with the Secretary of State, to seize the U.S.-based assets, or assets that come under the control of a U.S. person or entity, of anyone who has “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.” The order also allows for sanctions against those who support such acts, and those who work on behalf of people performing such acts.
“This Executive Order will allow the United States to take action against those who seek to undermine Yemen’s transition and the Yemeni peoples’ clear desire for change,” Press Secretary Jay Carney said in a statement. “The President took this step because he believes that the legitimate aspirations of the Yemeni people, along with the urgent humanitarian and security challenges, cannot be addressed if political progress stalls.”
The order refers to “certain members of the Government of Yemen and others” that “threaten Yemen’s peace,” but does not name anyone explicitly. An administration official told TPM that it is too early to say who will be targeted under the order, but that it could be used against military and political leaders both inside and outside the government of Yemen who meet the criteria.
One official told The Washington Post the order was designed as a “deterrent” to “make clear to those who are even thinking of spoiling the transition” to think again.
Former Yemeni Vice President Abed Rabbo Hadi took over the presidency from long-time leader Ali Abdullah Saleh in February, as part of the transition deal. Hadi has since vowed to eradicate Al Qaeda in the country.
The U.S. has recently stepped up military operations in Yemen, home to Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. According to The Long War Journal, which keeps an unofficial tally, the CIA and the Joint Special Operations Command are known to have conducted at least 35 air and missile strikes inside Yemen since December 2009. At least 18 strikes have been carried out since March. Earlier this month, it was revealed that U.S. and Saudi intelligence had foiled a new AQAP underwear bomb plot hatched in Yemen.
Today, the Associated Press reported that U.S. troops are operating from a desert air base in the country, helping to coordinate assaults and airstrikes against AQAP, whose fighters have taken over territory in the south of the country.
Critics of expanded executive power are voicing concerns over the order, among them journalist Jeremy Scahill, who has reported extensively from Yemen.
“For the record, I don’t think the Obama Administration would be so brazen as to freeze Jeremy Scahill’s assets because he reported critically on Obama’s Yemen policy,” Marcy Wheeler wrote on her blog. “But the Executive Order they’re rolling out today is reportedly written so broadly so as to make something like that possible.”
Eric Lach is a reporter for TPM. From 2010 to 2011, he was a news writer in charge of the website’s front page. He has previously written for The Daily, NewYorker.com, GlobalPost and other publications. He can be reached at ericl(at)talkingpointsmemo.com