A Yemeni testified at a US Senate hearing entitled “Drone Wars: The Constitutional and Counter-terrorism Implications of Targeted Killing” for the first time on Tuesday, April 23, 2012.
Farea Almuslimi is a 23-year-old activist and freelance journalist who comes from the village of Wesab, in Dhamar province, which was hit by a US drone strike on April 18, 2013.
Almuslimi was the last person to testify among the six witnesses chosen by the Senate, but he gave the most heartfelt and powerful testimony, describing the suffering that drone strikes inflict on ordinary people’s lives and their impact on his village and Yemen:
What violent militants have previously failed to achieve, one drone strike accomplished in an instant. There is now an immense anger towards America in Wesab. This is not an isolated instance, the drone strikes are the face of America to many Yemenis.
In his written testimony he said:
“Instead of first experiencing America through a school or a hospital, most people in Wessab first experienced America through the terror of a drone strike.
Almuslimi, who attended a year at a high school in the US on a state department scholarship, added:
For me personally, it is deeply troubling, astonishing, and challenging to reconcile that the very same hand that taught me English, awarded me scholarships, and dramatically improved my life is the hand that droned my village, terrified my people, and now makes it harder for them to believe the good things that I tell them about America and my American friends. It is especially frustrating to me because all the United States needed to do was identify Al-Radmi as a target, so that he could’ve been arrested without the injuries, destruction, and death caused by the drone strike.
The full session of the hearing is here.
Having a Yemeni testify at the first-ever public congressional hearing on Obama’s secret drone and targeted killing program was a positive step, yet many Yemenis and Americans were disappointed from the overall hearing.
@AnonyOps: After watching the Senate hearing on drones today, we have concluded that Lindsey Graham is totally ok with being a war criminal #dronewars
Jeb Boone, a GlobalPost correspondent, was expecting from Almuslimi a tougher tone in addressing the Senate. He tweeted:
@JebBoone: Expected @almuslimi to give senators a firm scolding at #DroneWars hearing. Instead, he offered a moving plea on behalf of #Yemen. Noble.
Kevin Gosztola tweeted in disappointment:
@kgosztola: Montage of questions asked at Senate subcommittee hearing on #dronewars is incontrovertible proof senators were pathetic #inners
@kgosztola: Too much abuse, corruption, criminality & covering up for one hearing on #dronewars to fully address. Only few senators care to address
Some of the Senators seemed to dismiss Almuslimi's testimony, or as Senator Lindsay Graham, claimed to know more about Yemen, some even moved on to ask more hypothetical questions rather than acknowledge the damaging impact on human lives on the ground.
John Knefel, writer and independent journalist, tweeted:
@johnknefel:Even when a Yemeni is before Congress, most act like he doesn't exist. #dronewars
@codepink: Senator Graham “applauds Obama administration for responsible use of drones abroad.” I think I'm going to be sick. #dronewars #nodrones
Jameel Jaffar, legal deputy at ACLU, tweeted:
@JameelJaffer: Turns out Obama admin *did* send a representative to this hearing. It's @LindseyGrahamSC!
Jeremy Scahill, an investigative journalist and author of the book “Dirty Wars: The World Is a Battlefield“, tweeted:
@jeremyscahill: This hearing on drones is a great illustration of how absolutely pathetic the US Congress is. #dronewars
Gregory Johnsen, author of the book “The Last Refuge: Yemen al-Qaeda and America's War in Arabia”, tweeted:
@gregorydjohnsen 23 Apr
This hearing, for me, illustrates the intellectual shallowness of what passes for a “drone debate” in the US.
Tom Junod, a writer, tweeted:
At yesterday's Senate hearing on drones, all witnesses spoke in abstractions, except the one who offered actual human witness, @almuslimi.
Muna, a Yemeni activist, tweeted:
@ArabsUnite: Truly thankful for the contribution of @almuslimi I'm glad that we have had a humane although chilling account of drones #Yemen #dronewars
Mohammed Al-Asaadi tweeted:
@alasaadim: #Dronewars are signs of arrogance and inhumanity. We are all against #drones and out of law killings in #Yemen, #pakistan, #somalia etc.
Noor Mir the Pakistani-American anti-drone campaign coordinator at CODEPINK and Rooj Alwazir, a Yemeni-American activist and organizer with SupportYemen both present at the hearing co-wrote a powerful piece entitled “DRONE WARS: How White Privilege Obscures Real Dialogue”:
Farea spoke beautifully and passionately when he was afforded the chance about the dangers of drones in creating more enemies than friends, but was not allowed to analyze or explain his statement any further, curtailed by a reliance on legal jargon and reining in executive authority. We are thankful for him being there, but we are distressed that the Subcommittee’s treatment of his presence was just that– a cold, removed, and uninvolved treatment markedly different from their involved and lengthy conversations with the remaining witnesses. Why invite a Yemeni to speak about the human costs of drone wars and then cast a shadow of doubt and ignorance over his experiences by adopting a presumptuous tone?
According to many, the US drone strikes, in cooperation with Yemen's government, are a constant terror in Yemeni villages and lives, used under the pretext of fighting “terrorism” instead of capturing the identified suspects. Both governments are accountable for the human cost of this policy and its long-term impact. Drone war debate in the US finally made some progress, at least a Yemeni and human perspective was heard, which made Yemenis proud. Yet many people in Yemen, after viewing the Senate hearing and reactions to the Boston explosions, were left with the feeling that their lives had no value, certainly not as much as American lives. This thought was cynically expressed in the following tweet:
@anatosaurus: When Americans are killed, it's a tragedy. When Americans kill, it's a strategy. #dronewars #p2 #dontbuyit
This Storfiy has more reactions to the Senate hearing.