Roosevelt Institute | Cornell University

From Blue Skies to Gray: the Victims of America's Drone Fetish

By Usamah AndrabiPublished November 8, 2013

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The US drone policy has been criticized countless times without any real response from the Obama administration on the opposition's concerns. However, this ignorance does not come near the utter disrespect that members of the Rehman family faced when they traveled to America.
By Usamah Andrabi, Published 11/8/13

The US drone policy has been criticized countless times without any real response from the Obama administration on the opposition's concerns. However, this ignorance does not come near the utter disrespect that members of the Rehman family faced when they traveled to America.

Rafiq Rehman and his family were survivors of a drone strike that occurred in their village, Tappi, Khun Khel in North Waziristan, Pakistan last October. On Tuesday, they traveled outside of Pakistan for the first time to speak to the US government about the impact of the drone strikes on the Pakistani people. The briefing was organized by Rep. Alan Grayson of Florida and only four other representatives were present for the family's testimony. 

Before continuing on the substance of the testimony, we need to take a minute to realize the outrageous disrespect the US government has shown this family. The lack of attention given to the Rehman family exemplifies the United States' disregard for civilian casualties of the drone war. Five out of the 535 congressman in America thought that Rafiq Rehman and his family's woes were not important enough to spare a few hours of their time. 

If the United States seeks to continue this illegal drone warfare, it should at least pretend to care about the civilians who are being harmed as a byproduct of the strikes. However, that would require US leaders to live up to the destructiveness of their attacks, which they don't. In fact, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney contests that drone strikes only occur if there is a "near certainty" that no civilian casualties will occur. Unfortunately for Mr. Carney and the people of Pakistan, the United Nations has reported that at least 400 civilian deaths have occurred in Pakistan in the last ten years due to drone strikes.

On October 24, 2012, Rafiq's son, Zubair, and his daughter, Nabila, were forced to witness the gruesome death of their grandmother when a drone struck near their home in Waziristan. Thirteen year old Zubair, who suffered a leg injury when shrapnel got "lodged in his leg" noted that he knew the drones were overhead when he heard the drones' buzzing noise, a sound with which he had been familiar since he was a child.

After two clicking noises, the clear blue sky above him turned to night and he was "enveloped in darkness and heat." He no longer prefers blues skies, he said in his testimony at the congressional hearing. Now he "prefers gray skies because drones do not buzz above him when skies are gray. Nine-year old Nabila remembers the same dark wave of heat and soon after saw that her hand wouldn't stop bleeding despite her best attempts to bandage it.

Rafiq Rehman remains uninformed about why his mother died that day. As far as he knows, only one person died that day, and he does not understand why his mother was targeted. The Rehmans' testimony in front of .9% of the United States Congress comes on the heels of Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif's meeting with President Obama. At the following press conference, Sharif indicated that during the meeting, he implored the President to cease drone attacks. President Obama made no comments on drones to the press.

The United States can longer plead ignorance on the subject of drone strikes. Now that there is a public face to the drone war, the US government must soon accept responsibility for its actions. America's public image is deteriorating in countries that suffer these drone strikes, and the immense fear that the constant threat of a drone strike creates for many kids like Zubair and Nabila is growing. The Rehman family is afraid to leave their own home and does not see why these strikes must continue. Rafiq Rehman notes, "As a teacher my job is to educate, but how can I teach [about drone strikes]? How can I teach what I don't understand?" The US has still not even acknowledged the attack on Rehman's family. Land of the free and home of the brave.