Victims recount horror of drone strikes

October 30, 2013

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WASHINGTON, Oct 29: Calling drone strikes “miniature acts of war”, US lawmakers urged the Obama administration on Tuesday to reconsider a policy which had earned America new enemies in many nations.

Some lawmakers also demanded compensation for the victims.

The lawmakers demanded changes in America’s drone policy at the first ever appearance of the weapon’s victims on Capitol Hill, the home of US Congress.“It was the day before Eid.

We were collecting vegetables when my grandmother called me inside. I saw drones and then heard the noise, dum, dum, dum,” Nabila Rehman, 9, told the lawmakers and others who had gathered at the Rayburn House Office Building to listen to her and other survivors of her family. On Oct 24, 2012, Nabila was playing outside her home in Ghundi Kala, North Waziristan, when missiles hit her family’s fields. The drone strike killed Nabila’s 60-year-old grandmother, Mamana Bibi, the village’s only midwife.

Nabila tried to run, but her body was too badly burned. She had to be rushed to the hospital with shrapnel wounds. Her older brother, Zubair, 13, was taken to Islamabad and then to Peshawar, for surgery to remove shrapnel from his leg. Nabila’s little sister Asma, 7, has had problems hearing ever since.

“Everything went dark. I heard a scream. It could have been my grandma. I could not see. I was very scared and tried to run but could not. I felt something in my hand. It was blood. I was very scared,” Nabeela told the lawmakers.

“My grandmother and I loved blue skies but now I do not,” said Zubair.

“Now I prefer grey skies because drones cannot fly when the sky is cloudy.”

“I still do not know why mother was killed,” asked her father Rafiq ur Rehman, a school teacher. “She was not a terrorist.”

Congressman Alan Grayson, a Florida Democrat, choked with emotions while welcoming the Rehmans to the briefing.

“I wish you did not have to take this trip to America due to the loss of someone you loved,” he said.

Mr Grayson noted that new technological developments had now introduced a new method of war, through remote killings, which requires new laws to regulate this lethal technology.

In relying on this remote technology, American also had chosen “unilaterally to kill from the skies within the borders of other states with whom we are not at war,” he said. “It is wrong. It is just too dangerous.”Due to the extra-judicial nature of these killings, America needs a new legal framework to operate the drones, he added.

“The death of innocents, of an adult and a child, should never be acceptable as collateral damage,” he said. “The unintended consequences of these strikes and the public opinion that has mobilised against us in every victim nation demand greater surveillance.”

The US lawmaker noted that drone strikes were ultimately generating more hatred against America and urged the Obama administration to assess “pros and cons of these strikes, these miniature acts of war.”

“Invading from the skies is no different from invading from the ground, and yet there is no constitutional, legal frame work for these decisions of life and death to be made,” he said. “We should never accept that children are examples of collateral damage.”

Congressman Grayson noted that 10 to 30 per cent of deaths in drones were those of innocent civilians and yet it’s accepted as collateral damage.

“I cannot think of any other human activity in which 10 to 30 per cent of the deaths would be of innocents,” he said. “If capital punishment or a drug or surgery had this level of collateral damage, it will never be acceptable.”

Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky, a member of the House Intelligence

Committee, noted that last Amnesty International and Human Rights watch reported serious concerns about the US government’s use of drones.

“I need to follow up with the Obama administrations on many of the concerns in these reports and in this testimony today,” she said. “I agree with both that we need greater transparency and disclosure about the use of targeted killings.”

The lawmaker noted that the US Congress had so far not had “a full and open debate” about this new weapon of war and how it’s used.

“I am going to continue to urge this administration to properly disclose and act in a legal basis for targeted strikes,” she said.

Ms Schakowsky said she also had concerns about signature strikes that considered every adult male in the vicinity of such a strikes a terrorist.