Revolution #220, December 19, 2010

What Wikileaks Reveals: Cables, Lies & Murder

Beginning on Sunday, November 28, Wikileaks began publishing batches of 251,287 secret State Department diplomatic cables from 274 U.S. embassies and consulates around the world—the largest batch of secret government documents ever made public. These documents had been leaked to Wikileaks, a website dedicated to government transparency. Wikileaks aims to release all the cables, which date from 1966 to February 2010 (with most from the past three years), in stages over the next several months. This follows Wikileaks' releases of secret documents on the U.S. wars in Afghanistan in July and Iraq in October.

The U.S. struck aggressively against Wikileaks and its founder Julian Assange in the wake of these latest disclosures: the domain name ( was shut off, their web servers were shut down, their bank accounts frozen, and credit card companies have shut off contributions to their website. Obama's Attorney General is talking about criminal prosecution. Fox "news" mouthpiece and touted Republican presidential candidate Mike Huckabee said "anything less than execution is too kind a penalty." A prestigious Ivy League university has told students they risk future job prospects if they read any of these documents online. (See accompanying article, "U.S. Lashes Out at Wikileaks" in this issue.)

U.S. Client Regimes and the Interests of Empire... Mass Murder in Yemen

U.S. officials insist that Wikileaks' disclosures are harmful to the conduct of U.S. diplomacy, and that important matters of state must be kept secret. But what is revealed about the actual nature and purposes of U.S. diplomacy around the world in these cables? Why do the U.S. rulers feel that secrecy is so necessary? And what ramifications are U.S. officials worried about?


In Yemen, the State Department, the U.S. embassy and diplomacy did not prove to be an "alternative" to violence or war. Instead, they helped facilitate, orchestrate, and then cover up the U.S. assassinations.

Wikileaks' revelations on the killing of 68 people in Yemen in December 2009 sheds light on all these questions.

Yemen is a country of 23 million, about the size of Texas, located on the Arabian Peninsula, south of Saudi Arabia. It is the poorest country in the impoverished Arab world, with half its children suffering malnourishment. On December 17, 2009, the Yemeni government claimed to have killed 34 al-Qaeda militants in air raids and security sweeps in the mountainous region of the south, near the city of Sana'a. A week later, on December 24, it claimed to have killed another 34 "militants" in the eastern province of Shabwa.

This version of events was then reported by the world media. For instance, on December 25, AFP (Agence France-Presse) reported, "Yemeni aircraft killed 34 suspected Al-Qaeda members, including senior leaders, in a dawn raid on Thursday in a remote mountainous region, the second such strike in eight days, security sources said.... Thursday's strike brings the Yemeni government's tally of Al-Qaeda suspects killed in the past eight days to 68." Buried in the dispatch, AFP also reported that according to local officials, "49 civilians, including 23 women and 17 children, were killed in that air strike." (Subsequent reports by Amnesty International put the number of children killed at 21.)

Now, secret cables describing discussions between U.S. officials and the rulers of Yemen between September 2009 and January 2010 reveal that this story was a deliberate lie cooked up by U.S. and Yemeni officials.

It turns out these 68 people were killed by cruise missiles fired by the U.S. military—not Yemeni forces, and that this had been secretly set up months earlier at a September 6, 2009 meeting between U.S. and Yemeni officials. There they decided to step up airstrikes against Islamist forces, while having Yemen's government take credit for them and keeping U.S. involvement secret. A secret U.S. cable summed up, "In a September 6 meeting with Deputy National Security Advisor John Brennan, President Saleh pledged unfettered access to Yemen's national territory for U.S. counterterrorism operations...." Saleh was quoted as saying, "I have given you an open door on terrorism...."

On December 20, after the December 17 strikes which killed 34, including many civilians, Yemen's Deputy Prime Minister for Security and Defense Rashad al-Alimi told the U.S. ambassador that he and President Saleh viewed the attacks "as a success" and that President Saleh wanted them continued "non-stop until we eradicate this disease." (December 21, 2009 cable from U.S. ambassador to State Department)

And who were the victims of this mass murder? Alimi said, "the civilians who died were largely nomadic, Bedouin families who lived in tents near the AQAP [al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula] training camp and were assisting AQAP with logistical support," according to the secret U.S. summary of the meeting. The U.S. ambassador reported, "Alimi said they were poor people selling food and supplies to the terrorists, but were nonetheless acting in collusion with the terrorists and benefitting financially from AQAP's presence in the area." (December 21, 2009 cable) On January 2, General David Petraeus, head of the U.S. Central Command, traveled to Yemen and "congratulated" Saleh on the massacres—labeled "recent successful operations against AQAP" in the State Department cable on their meeting. Petraeus also told him that U.S. military aid to Yemen "would increase to USD 150 million [$150 million] in 2010." (January 4, 2010 cable from U.S. ambassador to State Department)

"'We'll continue saying the bombs are ours, not yours,' Saleh said," according to the State Department cable on the meeting, "prompting Deputy Prime Minister Alimi to joke that he had just 'lied' by telling Parliament that the bombs in Arhab, Abyan, and Shebwa were American-made but deployed by the ROYG [Republic of Yemen Government.]"

Keeping U.S. responsibility for the killings secret came up repeatedly in these meetings. At the December 20 meeting, U.S. and Yemeni officials worried that "local and international media will continue to look for evidence of a U.S. role" and according to the cable, disclosure of the U.S. responsibility could "undermine public support" for further strikes. So Yemen's President insisted, "it must 'maintain the status quo' regarding the official denial of U.S. involvement." Yemen's deputy prime minister argued that "U.S. munitions found at the sites" of strikes "could be explained away as equipment purchased from the U.S." (December 21, 2009 cable)

"When the first two American missile strikes against Qaeda camps in Yemen took place in December 2009," the New York Times (December 3, 2010) reports, "Mr. Saleh publicly claimed that they were Yemeni strikes to avert any anti-American backlash."

In sum, within the span of a week, the U.S. imperialists murdered 68 people, living in their own country thousands of miles from U.S. shores, with no warning, no charges, no legal proceedings, and little or no evidence that most of those killed—perhaps all those killed—had done anything to anyone. This with the collaboration of the despot who runs Yemen, whose rule and military is supported and funded by the U.S. Then the massacre became grist for jokes between U.S. and Yemeni officials.

All this was kept secret to prevent an anti-U.S. rebellion in Yemen, which would have made it much more difficult for the pro-American government there to collaborate with the U.S. military, or perhaps even lead to its downfall. And secrecy is also aimed at hiding from people in this country and globally the fact that the U.S., which claims the mantle of leader of the "free world," and the rule of law, is illegally assassinating innocent people whenever it suits its purposes.

In Yemen, the State Department, the U.S. embassy and diplomacy did not prove to be an "alternative" to violence or war. Instead, they helped facilitate, orchestrate, and then cover up the U.S. assassinations.

To the extent these Yemen cables were reported in the U.S. mainstream media, the role of the U.S. was spun, distorted and covered up. The New York Times December 3 story on them ran under the incredible headline: "Yemen Sets Terms of a War on Al Qaeda." As if the fact that Yemen's rulers advised the U.S. on how to best carry out murder, while also finagling for more aid from the U.S. in exchange, was more significant than the reality that U.S. imperialism was setting the agenda overall—and carrying out the massacre!

Yemen also illustrates how secrecy and lies are essential for maintaining the oppressive structures of U.S. global domination around the world. Today the U.S. and other imperialist powers exert dominance in oppressed Third World countries through client or surrogate states, rather than by ruling openly as colonial overlords, such as the British did in the 1800s. Now neo-colonial control is exerted from behind the scenes, while maintaining the outward appearance and pretense that these regimes are sovereign and independent states.

As the case of Yemen—as well as Wikileaks' revelations on dozens of other countries—shows, maintaining these appearances is essential to the existence of these regimes. Foreign intervention—and U.S. intervention especially—is widely hated. And the imperialist-backed or created regimes themselves are deeply unpopular and highly unstable because they're characterized by overt corruption, violent repression, and super-exploitation of the people they rule due to the overall workings of the global capitalist-imperialist system. If it became widely known that these rulers—who posture as nationalist opponents of foreign dominance (and in the Middle East as supporters of the Palestinian people)—were just fronting for the U.S., even giving the U.S. the green light to murder their own citizens, their rule would become even more tenuous—threatening both their rule and U.S. dominance.

Threatening Germany to Protect Torture and Rendition—the Case of Khaled el-Masri

Wikileaks has also revealed that in 2007, the U.S. demanded Germany drop its investigation of CIA personnel operating in Germany for the illegal arrest, kidnapping, and torture of a German citizen of Lebanese descent, Khaled el-Masri, in violation of Germany's own laws. If not, cables revealed, U.S. diplomats threatened Germany would suffer "a negative impact" in U.S.-German relations.


In Germany, the actions of U.S. diplomats served to cover up illegal torture and rendition, to protect those who had committed these crimes, to hide evidence of the global U.S. torture network from public view, to illegally intervene in the legal proceedings of another country, and to help preserve the U.S. government’s ability to render and torture people to this day—all in violation of international law.

El-Masri, a grocer from a town in south Germany, was arrested in early 2003 during a trip to Macedonia because his name was similar to that of an alleged al-Qaeda operative. Border agents who arrested him notified the CIA, who questioned him illegally and rendered him to Afghanistan, where he was held for five months without charges, repeatedly interrogated, beaten, sodomized, and tortured, before being released.

After his release and return to Germany, a case was filed on his behalf in the U.S. In May 2006, it was thrown out by a federal judge—not because el-Masri hadn't been brutalized, but because pursuing the case "poses a 'grave risk' of damage to national security by exposing government secrets." ("Lawsuit Against CIA Is Dismissed," Washington Post, May 19, 2006)

Prosecutors in Munich also began an investigation into el-Masri's kidnapping and torture. According to human rights attorney Scott Horton, the investigators "were able to conclude very quickly that his narrative of what happened to him, from beginning to end, was accurate, that in fact he was drugged, and he was subjected to a special starvation regimen. And they were able to tell this from skin and hair samples, which they tested. They then began to ascertain who had been involved in the snatch, and they identified 13 CIA agents who had been involved." (Democracy Now!, December 1, 2010)

In 2007, charges were being drawn up against the 13 agents and the case became something of an international issue. At the time, then-Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice publicly stated that the U.S. was not pressuring Germany or intervening in its legal system on this case. She was lying. One secret cable reported that the U.S. Embassy in Berlin was threatening Germany that "issuance of international arrest warrants would have a negative impact on our bilateral relationship;" in other words, that the U.S. would punish Germany (perhaps economically or politically) for obeying its own laws. After the U.S. ultimatum, the German government forced the Munich prosecutors to drop the case. (February 6, 2007 cable from U.S. ambassador to State Department) (Pressure was also secretly put on Spain to drop investigations of U.S. torture, rendition and other crimes it committed in Iraq and Afghanistan.)

So in this instance, the actions of U.S. diplomats served to cover up illegal torture and rendition, to protect those who had committed these crimes, to hide evidence of the global U.S. torture network from public view, to illegally intervene in the legal proceedings of another country, and to help preserve the U.S. government's ability to render and torture people to this day—all in violation of international law.

Collecting Biographical, Biometric, and Credit Card Information on UN Officials

Wikileaks shows that U.S. diplomats are part of a global U.S. network of spying and intelligence gathering centered in U.S. embassies and consulates around the world. And the extent of U.S. spying Wikileaks has revealed opens a window into the increasingly sharp, cutthroat rivalry among the world's imperialist countries and other powers, and U.S. efforts to gain an upper hand on rivals and potential rivals through illegal spying.


Wikileaks has revealed that the U.S. State Department under both Condoleezza Rice and Hillary Clinton has ordered department personnel to engage in widespread, extensive spying on all foreign leaders and officials they meet, including obtaining detailed personal information such as passport and frequent flier numbers, credit card information, phone numbers, email and computer passwords, even their DNA.

For example, Wikileaks has revealed that the U.S. State Department under both Condoleezza Rice and Hillary Clinton has ordered department personnel to engage in widespread, extensive spying on all foreign leaders and officials they meet, including obtaining detailed personal information such as passport and frequent flier numbers, credit card information, phone numbers, email and computer passwords, even their DNA.

The State Department is also illegally conducting a massive spying operation against the leadership of the United Nations, including Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, and permanent Security Council representatives from China, Russia, France and the UK.

One 2009 classified directive authorized by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton demands that State Department personnel at the UN obtain "forensic technical details about the communications systems used by top UN officials, including passwords and personal encryption keys used in private and commercial networks for official communications.... Washington also wanted credit card numbers, email addresses, phone, fax and pager numbers and even frequent-flier account numbers for UN figures and biographic and biometric information on UN Security Council permanent representatives. The operation targeted at the UN appears to have involved all of Washington's main intelligence agencies," including the CIA, FBI, and Secret Service. (Guardian UK, September 28, 2010)

All this is illegal according to UN conventions. (A 1946 convention states, "The premises of the United Nations shall be inviolable ... immune from search, requisition, confiscation, expropriation and any other form of interference, whether by executive, administrative, judicial or legislative action." A 1961 convention states "the official correspondence of the mission shall be inviolable [untouchable].")

According to the Guardian UK, the level of personal and technical detail being demanded, including the specifications of computer and phone systems, passwords and encryption keys, points to the possibility of widespread hacking or surveillance operations. Since 2008, at least nine directives have been issued to U.S. embassies around the world with a host of demands for detailed information on various targets of U.S. surveillance. The New York Times worried that these memos "appear to blur the traditional boundaries between statesmen and spies."

Secrecy to What Ends?

The U.S. claims that the Wikileaks cables endanger lives, but an analysis of the Wikileaks cables reveals that what is being threatened is the ability of U.S. operatives—people who have orchestrated great crimes—to endanger and kill people around the world in service of U.S. dominance.

Wikileaks' trove of secrets offers vivid, direct, and unassailable evidence that the U.S. routinely carries out all manner of crimes across the world, from torture and rape in Afghanistan, to mass murder in Yemen, to illegal spying at UN headquarters. They show the U.S. involved in a no-holds-barred capitalist-imperialist rivalry with powers they are allied with, as well as their more direct rivals. They document how the U.S. manages a global network of brutal client regimes as key links in their empire of oppression and exploitation. And these secret cables show that the U.S. lies about all of it. This is the nightmare world the U.S. dominates, and is viciously trying to maintain.

For the imperialists, secrecy is essential because everything they're doing is unjust and against the interests of the vast majority of humanity. In their own home base, secrecy is extremely important for the imperialists to keep broad sections of the population in a state of blissful ignorance and complacency about what the U.S. is actually doing around the world (coupled with fear that any link to criticizing the U.S. could open people to persecution) and to minimize opposition and resistance.

In fact, secrecy is even more vital and a much bigger deal for the U.S. rulers in the "post-9/11" world than previously. The U.S. ruling class, spearheaded by the Bush regime, decided to publicly embrace torture and to openly flaunt international law. They did so because their empire and system are confronting big challenges, and they've decided that even more vicious, lawless and brutal methods are called for. As the Wikileak'ed cables show, far from being omnipotent "masters of the universe," the U.S. rulers are feverishly working to shore up and extend their dominance in the face of extremely costly and difficult occupations in Iraq and Afghanistan, unstable client regimes, the challenge posed by Iran to U.S. and Israeli hegemony in the Middle East, the growing assertiveness of Russia and the rapid rise of China as a major player and potential rival, as well as a host of other issues. So, since the Bush regime—and continuing under Obama —the emphasis on official secrecy (and spying and intelligence gathering) has only grown.

The revelations also expose the Obama presidency: what was an effort to burnish the image of the U.S. tarnished by the Bush regime, around the world and domestically, is exposed as more of the same.

Nobody should ever listen to U.S. government pronouncements the same way again, without thinking "yes, but what's the real deal? What do their secret cables say about this?"

And most important, these revelations can—and must—become a "teachable moment"—a moment when millions learn about and confront the horrors and crimes this country is responsible for around the world.

Here we've focused on only a few of the many cables posted by Wikileaks. (And even the thousands of cables leaked to Wikileaks represent only a small slice of what the U.S. does around the world, and do not include communications considered most secret, with the highest security classifications.) Stay tuned for further coverage of Wikileaks' damning revelations.

Send us your comments.

If you like this article, subscribe, donate to and sustain Revolution newspaper.

What Humanity Needs
From Ike to Mao and Beyond