Posted by on October 30, 2013 in Blog

By Maha Sayed
Legal Fellow

DroneFor the first time, survivors of U.S. drone strikes testified before members of Congress on Tuesday, powerfully illustrating the human impact of the American targeted killing operations in Pakistan. Congressman Alan Grayson (D-Fla.) co-hosted the briefing, which featured personal accounts from the family of a grandmother killed in a drone strike in October 2012. In addition to the drone victims, Robert Greenwald, producer and director of the documentary Unmanned: America’s Drone War, and Jennifer Gibson, a staff attorney at the legal charity Reprieve, also made statements on the tragic consequences of U.S. drone policy and operations.

In an effort to urge Congress to investigate and reexamine the United States' use of drones, Rafiq ur Rehman, a primary school teacher in North Waziristan, described his experience after losing his 67-year-old mother, Momina Bibi, in a drone strike last year. Rehman's children, Nabila, age 9 and Zubair, age 13, who were both injured in the strike that took their grandmother's life, also testified about their traumatic experience. During the briefing, Rehman recounted that he was visiting his sister on the eve of the Muslim holiday Eid al-Adha, when a drone-fired missile struck near his home, killing his mother and injuring his children. Zubair said that drones terrify him and the children in his community, who "used to play outside all of the time," are now "afraid to even leave their houses" to attend school. The testimony from the Rehman family provided an unprecedented opportunity for lawmakers to hear directly from victims of U.S. drone strikes, highlighting the gravity of harm that the controversial policy has created for civilians in North Waziristan.

Based on the high rate of casualties associated with U.S. drone strikes, Congressman Grayson emphasized the need for increased transparency of the Obama Administration’s targeted killing program, in which he characterized as "miniature acts of war," and questioned the overall necessity to use aerial strikes to bring al-Qaeda and Taliban militants to justice. Grayson said, "the manner in which we choose unilaterally to kill from the skies within borders of other states with whom we are not at war is wrong." The extrajudicial nature and unintended consequences of the aerial killings, Grayson concluded, likely violate international law on the use of force and "ultimately engender more hatred towards America." Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-IL), member of the House Intelligence Committee, agreed with reports from human rights organizations that highlight the need for "greater transparency and disclosure about use of targeted killings" and pledged to continue to urge the Administration to publically disclose facts and the legal basis for targeted strikes, and to publicly clarify U.S. policy on the use of drones. Rep. Rush Holt (D-NJ) joined in expressing his deep appreciation to the Rehman family for sharing their experience. Congressman Rick Nolan (D-MN) also thanked the survivors for "helping the American people to put a human face on the drone policy and the tragic consequences of it."

The Congressional briefing on the impact of drone strikes on civilians underscored the importance of ensuring transparency and oversight of the legal justification, effectiveness, and reporting surrounding the U.S.'s targeted killing practices. Additionally, as Congressman Grayson noted, considering that Pakistan is the third-largest recipient of foreign aid from the U.S., it is unclear why the administration cannot cooperate with and rely upon local forces to take actions against local insurgents and militants. The continued use of drones to target and eliminate individuals determined to be threats to our national security must be based on a sound constitutional framework and carried out in such a way that does not needlessly endanger the lives of innocent civilians.

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