The victims of a drone strike alleged to be launched last year by the United States spoke to members of Congress on Tuesday and urged the US government to stop killing civilians with weaponized unmanned aerial vehicles.
Rafiq ur Rehman, a primary school teacher from North Waziristan, Pakistan, spoke through an interpreter on Capitol Hill on Tuesday along with his two children, ages nine and 13.
Rep. Alan Grayson (D-Florida) invited Rehman to speak in Washington about the strike last October that killed Momina Bibi, his 67-year-old mother who was recognized around the region as a midwife, not a militant. Regardless, a weaponized drone purported to be under the control of the US Central Intelligence Agency executed Bibi in front of her grandchildren on Oct. 24, 2012. The US has not formally acknowledged the attack, nor taken responsibility.
"Nobody has ever told me why my mother was targeted that day,” Rehman said during the Tuesday morning panel. "All media reported three, four, five militants were killed. But only one person was killed that day. A mom, grandma, a midwife.”
“The string that holds the pearls together. That is what my mother was,” Rahman said. “Since her death, the string has been broken and life has not been the same. We feel alone and we feel lost.”
Speaking before members of Congress, Rehman thanked Rep. Grayson for the invitation and said it was reassuring that some members of the US government are willing to try and shed light on a gruesome operation rarely acknowledged publicly in Washington.
"As a teacher my job is to educate,” said Rehman. “But how can I teach this? How can I teach what I don’t understand?”
Rehman’s 12-year-old son, Zubair, told Grayson and the few congressional colleagues that joined him on the Hill Tuesday that he was with his grandmother last year when she was killed shortly after the buzzing of a drone was heard hovering above them.
"As I helped my grandma in the field, I could see and hear drone overhead but wasn’t worried because we’re not militants,” Zubair said. "I no longer like blue skies. In fact, I prefer gray skies. When sky brightens, drones return and we live in fear.”
“We used to love to play outside. But now people are afraid to leave their houses so we don’t play very often,” the boy added.
Zubair’s sister, nine-year-old Nabila, was picking okra in a field with her grandmother at the time of the attack. She testified that she heard the noise from above. “Everything was dark and I couldn’t see anything, but I heard a scream...I was very scared and all I could think of doing was just run,” she said.
The Rehman’s were joined at the hearing by Robert Greenwald, a filmmaker who has been working in Pakistan over the past several months on a project related to the ongoing US drone strikes. Testifying on his own behalf, Greenwald suggested that the ongoing operations waged by the US as an alleged counter-terrorism operation are breeding anti-American sentiment at a rate that makes Al-Qaeda jealous.
“Yes, there are 100 or 200 fanatics, but now you have 800,000 people in this area who hate the United States because of this policy,” Greenwald said. Indeed, last week a former US State Department official claimed that drone strikes in Yemen are creating dozens of new militants with each attack.
Greenwald added that the research he’s seen indicated that 178 children have been killed in Pakistan by US drone strikes. Independent studies suggest that the total number of civilians killed by unmanned aerial vehicles may be in the thousands.
“We’ve gone from being the most popular country among Pakistani to, according to the polling I’ve seen, the least popular,” Grayson said. “And if you ask people why, the reason is this program.”
Despite these numbers, though, the White House maintains that the best intelligence agencies in the world work in tandem with the mightiest military in order to gather information about targets, then order hits intended to take out extremists and cause as little collateral damage as possible.
According to Greenwald, this system is not without its flaws.
“How could we make decisions, let’s be clear about this, making decisions to clear people based on guesses?” asked Greenwald. “Guesses. No jury, no judge, no trial, no defense but because they are sitting in a certain pattern, because they’re in a certain place, an entire community of leadership has been wiped out.”
“I hope that by telling you about my village and grandmother, you realize drones are not the answer,” pleaded 12-year-old Zubair.
Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Illinois) said at the hearing that she would bring up the witnesses’ plight with the White House. Grayson said that “friends of the military industrial complex” in Washington would likely keep a full discussion from occurring immediately in Washington, adding that “I don’t expect to see a formal hearing conducted on this subject anytime soon.”
Published on Oct 19, 2013
America's deadly drone strikes are essentially above the law, and must become transparent and accountable. That's according to the UN's special rapporteur on human rights and counter-terrorism. Washington has so far refused to disclose details on where its unmanned aerial strikes occur, and how many civilians are killed. Let's get some reaction and insight from journalist and former Pakistani Air Force officer, Sultan M. Hali.
Posted on 12/16/2012 by Juan Cole
The US government continues to rain drones down on the tribal belt of Pakistan. While the Washington narrative is that these drones are precision machines that only kill terrorists, this story is not true.
The drone program is classified, and so it cannot be publicly debated. It cannot even be acknowledged by President Obama and his cabinet members. Drones are operated by civilians and sometimes by contractors. That is, we are subcontracting assassination.
Americans who were upset that the president did not seek congressional authorization for the enforcement of the no-fly zone in Libya are apparently all right with his administration bombing Pakistan without explicit authorization (the 2001 one authorizes action against perpetrators of 9/11, not their children.). The Obama administration has declared that no judges or judicial process need be involved in just blowing away people, even American citizens.
Of the some 3000 persons killed by US drones, something like 600 have been innocent noncombatant bystanders, and of these 176 were children. In some instances the US drone operators have struck at a target, then waited for rescuers to come and struck again, which would be a war crime. Obviously, children may run in panic to the side of an injured parent, so they could get hit by the indiscriminate second strike.
We don’t know the exact circumstances of the children’s deaths because the US government won’t talk about them, indeed, denies it all.
Someone actually wrote me chiding me that the Newtown children were “not in a war zone!” Americans seem not to understand that neither is Waziristan a “war zone.” No war has been declared there, no fronts exist, no calls for evacuation of civilians from their villages have been made. They’re just living their lives, working farms and going to school. They are not Arabs, and most are not Taliban. True, some sketchy Egyptians or Libyans occasionally show up and rent out a spare room. So occasionally an American drone appears out of nowhere and blows them away.
Robert Greenwald of the Brave New Foundation explains further: (warning: graphic and not for the squeamish):
nine organizations submitted a friend-of-the-court brief in support of the ACLU's Freedom of Information Act lawsuit seeking records about the CIA's use of drones to carry out targeted killings around the world. The organizations work on a diverse array of issues that don't always overlap, including international human rights and rule of law, government transparency, investigative journalism, civil liberties and national security policy. Although some of these groups seldom have occasion to collaborate, they joined together to urge the court to reject the CIA's position that it can't confirm whether it has a drone strike program at all.