WASHINGTON (Web Desk) – A Pakistani family affected by US drone strikes, appeared before members of the US Congress on Tuesday to record their account from when they were targeted last year.
Rafiq ur Rehman – a primary (elementary) teacher in North Waziristan – and his children Zubair (13) and Nabila (9) are the first victims of the covert drone programme to give evidence in person to members of Congress. The children’s grandmother – Mr Rehman’s mother – Mammana Bibi (67) was killed in a CIA strike in October 2012.
The family was accompanied by Jennifer Gibson, an attorney with the human rights charity Reprieve.
Rehman’s son Zubair, 13, said that the “US drone took my grandmother’s life.”
Replying to a question Rehman said when his mother died in the drone strike, the neighbours “told me that see what US has done to your mother, you should hate US.”
“Our children now do not want to go to school, they even fear to play outside, we live in a constant fear. Before drone campaign started, we were busy in our own lives.”
In reply to a question raised by an Al Jazeera correspondent, Congressman Alan Grayson said that presence of five members of Congress at the briefing indicated that there is a fair amount of interest from representatives. He conceded that he does not see any formal briefing on drones soon as most of the house committees are chaired by the people who are friends of military industrial complex not those who oppose of it or are sceptical of it. “I believe that over the span of time it people will realise the gravity of this issue.”
The Congressmen present though defended the strikes on allegations that they ammounted to war crimes citing legal ussyes.
To a question on what would he say if he got the chance to meet President Obama, who approves the strikes Rehman said, “I would like to tell President Obama that what happened to me and my family is wrong”.
“I would urge him to find a peaceful answer to end this war. During my stay here in US I noticed that everyone here lives in peace here and I dream that my children also be able to live in peace.”
Rehman urged the US and Pakistan government to achieve peace.
Earlier, Nabila’s father, Rafiq Rehman, said he accepted an invitation from a documentary production company to come to the United States because “as a teacher, I wanted to educate Americans and let them know my children have been injured.”
“My daughter does not have the face of a terrorist and neither did my mother. It just doesn’t make sense to me, why this happened,” he told AFP in an interview.
The Rehmans said they have no connection to any anti-US extremists or Al-Qaeda militants, and as they mourned their grandmother, they were confounded by inaccurate accounts of the October 2012 bombing raid.
Media reports afterward confirmed a drone strike took place, but said missiles hit a house, with one version alleging a car was struck and several militants killed.
But the Rehmans said no building or car was directly hit in the attack, and that paved roads are some distance away. They say missiles landed in the field where their grandmother was teaching Nabila how to recognize when okra are ripe enough to pick.
After a loud boom, “where my grandmother was standing, I saw these two bright lights come down and hit her,” said Nabila. “And everything became dark at that point.”
She noticed blood on her hand and tried to wipe it away with her shawl. “But the blood just kept coming,” she said.
Shrapnel lodged in her right hand and she was treated at a local hospital. Her brother, Zubair, suffered shrapnel wounds to his left leg, which required two operations. His family had to take out a loan to pay for the surgery.
Since the attack, Zubair said he has trouble sleeping and no longer goes outside to play cricket.
“I don’t feel like going outside and playing with my friends. I don’t feel like going to school. It’s really destroyed my life,” he said.
His sister said the US government’s explanation for drone strikes did not apply to her family.
“When I hear that they are going after people who have done wrong to America, then what have I done wrong to them? What did my grandmother do wrong to them?
“I didn’t do anything wrong,” she said.
The Rehman family’s experience features in a new documentary, “Unmanned: America’s Drone Wars,” which takes a critical view of the air strikes.