First-Hand Stories of Victims Shed Light on Human Cost of Strikes
New York, NY – Today, the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR), Yemeni human rights organization HOOD and the Swiss-based Alkarama submitted new testimony to a Senate Judiciary Sub-Committee that is holding a hearing this afternoon on the Obama administration’s targeted killing program. The submission provides accounts of a sample of five strikes carried out in Yemen in 2012 and 2013 based on unpublished field research conducted by the HOOD and Alkarama, which included visits to the sites of the strikes and interviews with victims. Some of the strikes examined resulted in the highest civilian casualty tolls in recent years.
“Today's hearing is an important opportunity to shine a spotlight on a program that has already left thousands of people dead and injured, and has long needed greater scrutiny. The personal stories in our submission provide a glimpse of the human toll of these strikes,” said CCR Senior Attorney Pardiss Kebriaei. “The administration has so far avoided accountability for its actions by withholding all but what it wants the public to hear, resisting disclosures of information even to members of congress tasked with oversight, and opposing judicial review of violations.” Ms. Kebriaei is a lead counsel in the joint Center for Constitutional Rights and ACLU lawsuit challenging the targeted killing of three U.S. citizens in Yemen, including 16-year-old Abdulrahman Al-Aulaqi, Al-Aulaqi v. Panetta.
The submission’s accounts verify news reports of particular strikes and provide eye-witness interviews. One of the strikes documented occurred on September 2, 2012 in the Al-Bayda' governate in southern Yemen. U.S. aircraft fired on a truck carrying 14 passengers returning to their village at midday. The strikes killed 11 people, including three children ages 12 and 13. A surviving victim, who suffered severe burns and injuries, recounted how one of the "planes" came close and should have seen that there were women and children in the truck. "Why did they do this to us? Why do Americans want to kill us?" he asked. "Are we not people like they are?"
Said HOOD attorney Abdulrahman Ali Barman, who conducted some of the field research (translated from the Arabic), “When I visited the regions of families of the drones’ victims, I was faced with a question that was asked by everyone in those areas: why are Americans killing us? What did we do to them? And another sad question that I was asked by many: Are we humans? Do we have rights? Who can help us achieve justice from America’s actions? We live in hell hearing the rumble of drones. Our children live under severe psychological stress. I found myself for the first time unable to answer their questions, and I, too, found myself asking, why are Americans are killing us?”
The interviews also reveal the psychological terror of being subjected to a continuous assault by drones and aircraft. In another witness account, following a strike on August 29, 2012 in the Hadramout province in southern Yemen, a relative of one of the victims explained, "Just hearing the sound of these planes sends terror into the souls of people. A person leaves his house in the morning and he looks right and left, not knowing from where a blow might come that would be his end. This psychological state is unbearable for people to live in. This by itself causes terror."
While the administration continues to claim that its program has resulted in few civilian casualties, it has yet to disclose its count of those killed and injured, or its criteria for determining civilians versus "militants" or combatants, among other basic information. It has been reported, for instance, that the administration presumes as a starting point that all males of military age in a strike zone are combatants.