Civilian drone strike victims appear before Congress

“Nobody has ever told me why my mother was targeted that day,” Rafiq ur Rehman, a Pakistani schoolteacher said before a Congressional briefing. Photo: AP

WASHINGTON, October 29, 2013  “On October 24, 2012, a CIA drone killed my 67-year old mother and injured my children,” said a Pakistani schoolteacher before a Congressional briefing on Tuesday.

The briefing, organized by Rep. Alan Grayson (D-FL), featured Rafiq ur Rehman and two of his children who survived the drone attack, as well as documentary filmmaker Robert Greenwald, who recently released a new exposè called Unmanned: America’s Drone Wars.

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“Nobody has ever told me why my mother was targeted that day,” Rafiq ur Rehman explained. “The media reported that the attack was on a car, but there is no road alongside my mother’s house. Several reported the attack was on a house. But the missiles hit a nearby field, not a house. Many reported that three, four, five militants were killed.”

“But only one person was killed that day,” he said, “not a militant, but my mother.”

Rehman said his three children - 13-year-old Zubair, 9-year-old Nabila and 5-year-old Asma – were playing nearby their grandmother when she was killed. All three were injured by shrapnel and rushed to the hospital.

Rep. Alan Grayson, in introducing the Rehmans, held back tears as he condemned what he called “miniature acts of war.”

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The Senate Judiciary Committee held a similar hearing in April, featuring Yemeni youth activist Farea al-Muslimi, who noted that just six days prior to the hearing, his “village was struck by a drone, in an attack that terrified thousands of simple, poor farmers.”

“What radicals had previously failed to achieve in my village,” al-Muslimi said, “one drone strike accomplished in an instant: there is now an intense anger and growing hatred of America,” adding that he has ”seen al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula use U.S. strikes to promote its agenda and try to recruit more terrorists.”

The added scrutiny of the Obama administration’s drone war comes on the heels of three studies questioning its legality and criticizing its effect on civilian populations.

The first was a report from the United Nations Special Rapporteur on human rights and counterterrorism, which found that reliable information on the legality of each strike, and details of the effect on civilians, were incomplete because of the Obama administration’s insistence that such evidence be kept secret. 

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“In the United States, the involvement of CIA in lethal counter-terrorism operations in Pakistan and Yemen has created an almost insurmountable obstacle to transparency,” the report found. 

“The Special Rapporteur does not accept that considerations of national security justify withholding statistical and basic methodological data of this kind,” it added.

Human Rights Watch also released a study investigating six drone strikes, which “killed 82 people, at least 57 of them civilians.” 

“Two of these attacks were in clear violation of international humanitarian law,” the report found, “because they struck only civilians or used indiscriminate weapons,” while “the other four cases may have violated the laws of war because the individual attacked was not a lawful military target or the attack caused disproportionate civilian harm, determinations that require further investigation.”

One of the incidents researchers investigated was a September 2012 drone strike that killed 12 civilians, “including three children and a pregnant woman.”

“About four people were without heads. Many lost their hands and legs,” said Nawaf Massoud Awadh, a local sheik. “These were our relatives and friends.”

After the attack, a local Yemeni activist told CNN, “I would not be surprised if a hundred tribesmen joined the lines of al-Qaeda as a result of the latest drone mistake. This part of Yemen takes revenge very seriously.”

In another case, 41 civilians were killed in a U.S. cruise missile attack on a Bedouin camp in southern Yemen. While 14 alleged al-Qaeda members were killed, the strike violated international law by not distinguishing between civilians and combatants.

“Nine of the dead were women – five of them pregnant – and 21 were children,” Human Rights Watch reported.

Finally, Amnesty International researched several drone strikes and found, like Human Rights Watch, that the drone war may constitute war crimes in some cases.

One of the incidents Amnesty looked at was the attack on Rafiq ur Rehman’s 67-year old mother. One of the grandchildren who appeared in the Congressional briefing on Tuesday, 9-year old Nabeela, told Amnesty that she “wasn’t scared of drones before, but now when they fly overhead I wonder, will I be next?” 

The Amnesty report also criticized the Obama administration’s lack of transparency, noting that everything from “kill lists” to the U.S. government’s own legal rationale behind the drone war remains a secret.

“Secrecy surrounding the drone program gives the U.S. administration a license to kill beyond the reach of the courts or basic standards of international law,” said Mustafa Qadri, the author of the report. 

Asked by a reporter what he would like to tell President Obama, Rafiq ur Rehman said, in part, “what happened to my family was wrong.”

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John Glaser

John Glaser is Editor of He has been published at The Huffington Post, Al Jazeera English, The American Conservative, and The Daily Caller, among other outlets. He lives in Alexandria, Virginia.

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