- Iona Craigjournalist who was based in Sana’a between 2010 and 2015 as the Yemen correspondent for The Times of London.
Reporter Iona Craig exposed the Trump administration’s lie about its first military engagement and is in New York to receive the George Polk Award for documenting the destruction and civilian casualties from a covert U.S. Navy SEAL raid on a remote village in Yemen that left 25 civilians and one U.S. soldier dead.
AMY GOODMAN: Iona, I wanted to talk about this report you did last year that exposed the Trump administration lie about its first military engagement. You’re here in New York to win the George Polk Award today for documenting what you revealed at the time—the destruction and civilian casualties from a covert U.S. Navy SEAL raid on a remote village in Yemen that left 25 civilians and one U.S. soldier dead. We know his name: William Ryan Owens. It’s why probably anyone knows about the Yemen raid in the United States. But first, this is then-White House spokesperson Sean Spicer, speaking last February about the objective of the raid that had taken place a month earlier.
PRESS SECRETARY SEAN SPICER: The raid that was conducted in Yemen was an intelligence-gathering raid. That’s what it was. It was highly successful. It achieved the purpose it was going to get, save the loss of life that we suffered and the injuries that occurred. The goal—
HALLIE JACKSON: So you’re pushing back on reporting that he was a target?
PRESS SECRETARY SEAN SPICER: Absolutely. He was not that. The goal of the raid was intelligence gathering. And that’s what we received, and that’s what we got. That’s why we can deem it a success.
AMY GOODMAN: Iona Craig, you reported otherwise for The Intercept, in a story headlined “Death in Al Ghayil: Women and Children in Yemeni Village Recall Horror of Trump’s 'Highly Successful' SEAL Raid.” You are now receiving the Polk Award for this. Talk about this discovery you made on this harrowing, multi-day trip you took through al-Qaeda territory to get to the truth of what the Trump administration did.
IONA CRAIG: Well, I was in Yemen at the time when this raid happened. I was actually due to leave sort of a day later. And it was quite clear from social media and local media in Yemen that there had been a number of civilian casualties. It wasn’t quite clear how many and to what extent. I had been to that area before. Under the Obama administration, there had been a drone strike on a wedding convoy, not far from the same place, where 12 civilians had been killed. And I traveled down there at that time. So I contacted people in the area to try and confirm or find out more about these reports. And they said, yes, there was a number of civilian casualties. Unfortunately, because of the civil war, I was on kind of the wrong side of the country, if you like, so I had to do sort of two sides of the triangle, over a thousand miles, to get to the location of where the raid happened. And it’s in an extremely remote part of Yemen. It’s right on the front lines.
That area was actually densely populated with fighters who were on the same—who were on the side of the Saudi coalition, so the same side as the U.S. in the war, who had been fighting the Houthis. They had been fighting the Houthis since 2014. Their village had received incoming missiles sometimes from the Houthis. So, when the Navy SEALs went in there initially, they assumed their village was under attack from the Houthis, hence it escalated very quickly into a firefight, and you saw the death of this Navy SEAL.
Yes, there was a low-level presence on the edge of the village, it appeared, of some al-Qaeda militants. But what happened was, the main part of the village, which was all civilians, mainly women and children asleep in their beds at night, was destroyed in this operation. Once the Navy SEALs came under attack, there was—the helicopters then came in, drones, fighter jets and everything else, and they pretty much razed the entire village. And that included the death of 10 children under the age of 13, an unborn child from a pregnant woman.
And it was, yeah, a pretty devastating scene when I got there. Most of the villagers ended up being displaced. Even after that raid, the helicopter gunships, the fighter jets, the drones came back and repeatedly bombed that area and that village at the beginning of March, the raid having happened at the end of January. And I kept in contact with the people in the area. And they’re still being targeted around there now. And they’re still being—some of them having to live in tents on the side of mountains, because they can’t go back to their homes, because they have been repeatedly targeted in that way. So, although I went there literally for a day to tell that story, the story hasn’t ended for them. They are still struggling, really, now.
Al-Bayda, that governorate, has been the most heavily bombed governorate under the Trump administration, where we’ve seen this huge escalation in drone and in airstrikes and U.S. operations, that hasn’t really been reported on much. In peacetime, it would have done. If we’d seen this huge escalation in U.S. operations and airstrikes in Yemen when there wasn’t a civil war, I think it would have gathered a lot more attention. But it just hasn’t. Because of the civil war happening on top of this, the Americans have been able to, if you like, get away with carrying out this large escalation in strikes, the majority of which have happened in al-Bayda, with very little attention on what’s been going on.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, I thank you for stopping by the studio on your way to receive the George Polk Award, so critical to understanding what’s happening today in Yemen. Iona Craig, journalist who was based in Sana’a from 2010 to 2015 as Yemen correspondent for The Times of London, today receiving the George Polk Award for documenting, in a story for The Intercept, the destruction and civilian casualties of a covert U.S. Navy SEAL raid on a remote village in Yemen.
To see our coverage speaking to Iona previously and also our link to that piece for which she is winning the award, you can go to democracynow.org.
When we come back, we look at a case right here in New York state, a case of a man in prison who was granted parole, and now, well, that is in question. His name is Herman Bell. Stay with us.
AMY GOODMAN: Cecil Taylor performing “Number One,” recorded in 1960. Cecil Taylor died on Thursday at the age of 89.