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Rafiq ur Rehman, a primary school teacher in Pakistan’s beleaguered Waziristan province has felt personally and profoundly the impact of U.S. drone strikes in his region. In one strike last October, not only were his three young children, aged five to 13, injured, but his 67-year-old mother was killed.
“A year later, Rehman still has no idea why his mother, Momina Bibi, a 67-year-old midwife, was blown to pieces while tending her garden,” wrote Ryan Devereaux in the Guardian this weekend, having interviewed Rehman and his family during their first trip to the United States. It is a landmark visit: The Rehmans will be the first drone victims to testify in front of Congress, having been invited by Rep. Alan Grayson (D-Fl.) to speak on Tuesday.
The family’s journey to Capitol Hill has not been a smooth one. As noted here in September, their lawyer (also a fellow with U.K. human rights group, Reprieve) Shahzad Akbar had his visa to enter the U.S. held up for what he believes were political reasons.
But now Rehman’s family — including his children — without their lawyer are ready to share their story with Congress, having arrived in D.C. over the weekend to prepare for Tuesday. Their story is one among a host of civilian tragedies that call into question the Obama administration’s description of drone programs as highly targeted kills. As Rehman himself noted in the Guardian:
Nobody has ever told me why my mother was targeted that day. The media reported that the attack was on a car, but there is no road alongside my mother’s house. Several reported the attack was on a house. But the missiles hit a nearby field, not a house. All reported that five militants were killed. Only one person was killed – a 67-year-old grandmother of nine.
My three children – 13-year-old Zubair, nine-year-old Nabila and five-year-old Asma – were playing nearby when their grandmother was killed. All of them were injured and rushed to hospitals. Were these children the “militants” the news reports spoke of? Or perhaps, it was my brother’s children? They, too, were there. They are aged three, seven, 12, 14, 15 and 17 years old. The eldest four had just returned from a day at school, not long before the missile struck.
But the United States and its citizens probably do not know this. No one ever asked us who was killed or injured that day. Not the United States or my own government. Nobody has come to investigate nor has anyone been held accountable. Quite simply, nobody seems to care.
… we want to understand why President Obama, when asked whom drones are killing, says they are killing terrorists. My mother was not a terrorist. My children are not terrorists. Nobody in our family is a terrorist.
Natasha Lennard is an assistant news editor at Salon, covering non-electoral politics, general news and rabble-rousing. Follow her on Twitter @natashalennard, email firstname.lastname@example.org.More Natasha Lennard.