Faisal bin Ali Jaber, a Yemeni engineer whose nephew and brother-in-law were killed in a US drone strike in Yemen last year, has requested a meeting with President Obama during his visit to Washington, DC, this week. Repreive attorney Cori Crider, Jaber’s legal representative, wrote the following request to Obama on Jaber’s behalf:
As well as killing innocent Yemenis, Faisal believes the drone strikes are counter-productive. His village is peaceful. They bore the US no ill-will, quite the contrary as can be seen from Salim’s brave stand five days before he died. Yet today the villagers associate the US with the brutal murder of two of their own.
Faisal is visiting the US as a representative of the victims’ families to bring attention to the true cost of the drone war, not only in terms of Yemeni lives and but in terms of America’s reputation in the region. I know that you are very busy, but I hope that you might make time to meet him, in order to understand the cost of the US’ drone programme for those on the ground in Yemen.
Jaber will be in Washington, DC, from November 14 to November 20 to meet with members of Congress about the negative impacts of the US targeted killing program in Yemen. He will also be speaking about his experience at this weekend’s Global Drone Summit, organized by Codepink, the Institute for Policy Studies, The Nation Magazine, the Center for Constitutional Rights, and the Georgetown chapter of the National Lawyers Guild.
This isn’t the first time Jaber has appealed to Obama for engagement on the drone issue. In July, after another US drone strike pounded his village, Jaber wrote a moving letter to President Obama and Yemeni President Abed Rabbou Mansour Hadi.
“Our family are not your enemy,” insisted Jaber, adding that his brother-in-law, Salem, who was killed in a US drone strike last year, was an imam who preached against Al Qaeda. “My family worried that militants would target Salem for his sermons. We never anticipated his death would come from above, at the hands of the United States. In his death you lost a potential ally – in fact, because word of the killing spread immediately through the region, I fear you have lost thousands,” read the letter.
Jaber also pointed out that no attempt was made to capture those that were apparently being targeted. “Our town was no battlefield. We had no warning – our local police were never asked to make any arrest,” he said.
Furthermore, “In months of grieving, my family have received no acknowledgement or apology from the U.S. or Yemen. We’ve struggled to square our tragedy with the words in your speeches.” He continued:
The strike devastated our community. The day before the strike, Khashamir buzzed with celebrations for my eldest son’s wedding. Our wedding videos show Salem and young Waleed in a crowd of dancing revellers, joining the celebration. Traditionally, this revelry would have gone on for days – but for the attack. Afterwards, it was days before I could persuade my eldest daughter to leave the house, such was her terror of fire from the skies.
The strike left a stark lesson in its wake – not just in my village, but across Hadramout and wider Yemen. The lesson, I am afraid, is that neither the current U.S. or Yemeni administrations bother to distinguish friend from foe. In speech after speech after the attack, community leaders stood and said: if Salem was not safe, none of us are.
Your silence in the face of these injustices only makes matters worse. If the strike was a mistake, the family – like all wrongly bereaved families of this secret air war – deserve a formal apology.
To this day I wish no vengeance against the United States or Yemeni governments. But not everyone in Yemen feels the same. Every dead innocent swells the ranks of those you are fighting.
All Yemen has begun to take notice of drones – and they object. Only this month, Yemen’s National Dialogue Conference, a quasi-Constitutional Convention which I understand the U.S. underwrites, almost unanimously voted to prohibit the unregulated use of drones in our country.
With respect, you cannot continue to behave as if innocent deaths like those in my family are irrelevant. If the Yemeni and American Presidents refuse to engage with overwhelming popular sentiment in Yemen, you will defeat your own counter-terrorism aims.
During the Congressional briefing last month that featured drone strike victims telling their story directly to lawmakers, President Obama was meeting with Cybersecurity industry leaders. Among them were the CEOs of Lockheed Martin and Northrup Grumman, both of which manufacture surveillance drones. If this wasn’t a clear enough message to drone strike victims about Obama’s priorities on the drone issue, then surely the US drone strike that struck Pakistan the following day was.