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Senate Hearing on Drone Warfare

Yemeni witness, others testifying on human cost of US drone warfare

Jacob Chamberlain, staff writer

Farea Al-Muslimi testifies before the Senate Judiciary’s subcommittee on the Constitution and human rights.

The Senate Judiciary Committee’s Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Human Rights held its first hearing on the Obama administration's targeted killing program entitled “Drone Wars: The Constitutional and Counterterrorism Implications of Targeted Killing”  Tuesday afternoon.

The hearing, which began at 4pm accepted testimony from a number of individuals including Farea Al-Muslimi, a journalist, writer and pro-democracy activist from Yemen, whose village, Wessab, was struck by a drone six days ago.

Other witnesses include:

  • General James Cartwright, United States Marine Corp (Ret.)
  • Peter Bergen, Director, National Security Studies Program, New America Foundation
  • Rosa Brooks, Professor of Law, Georgetown University Law Center
  • Colonel Martha McSally, United States Air Force (Ret.)
  • Ilya Somin, Professor of Law, George Mason University School of Law

Kevin Gosztola at FireDogLake reported live on the hearing here.

Ahead of today's hearing the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR), Yemeni human rights organization HOOD and the Swiss-based Alkarama submitted new testimony to the Senate Judiciary Sub-Committee which "provides accounts of a sample of five strikes carried out in Yemen in 2012 and 2013 based on unpublished field research conducted by the HOOD and Alkarama, which included visits to the sites of the strikes and interviews with victims."

Some of the strikes examined resulted in the highest civilian casualty tolls in recent years, CCR writes today.

“Today's hearing is an important opportunity to shine a spotlight on a program that has already left thousands of people dead and injured, and has long needed greater scrutiny. The personal stories in our submission provide a glimpse of the human toll of these strikes,” said CCR Senior Attorney Pardiss Kebriaei. “The administration has so far avoided accountability for its actions by withholding all but what it wants the public to hear, resisting disclosures of information even to members of congress tasked with oversight, and opposing judicial review of violations.”


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CCR adds:

The submission’s accounts verify news reports of particular strikes and provide eye-witness interviews. One of the strikes documented occurred on September 2, 2012 in the Al-Bayda' governate in southern Yemen. U.S. aircraft fired on a truck carrying 14 passengers returning to their village at midday. The strikes killed 11 people, including three children ages 12 and 13. A surviving victim, who suffered severe burns and injuries, recounted how one of the "planes" came close and should have seen that there were women and children in the truck. "Why did they do this to us? Why do Americans want to kill us?" he asked. "Are we not people like they are?"

Read the full report here.

“It’s time we received some real answers to the very serious questions of who our government is killing and why,” said Human Rights First’s Daphne Eviatar, who is monitoring today’s hearing. “The public is entitled to know both the legal justification for the U.S. drone war, as well as who exactly has been killed and for what reason. Neither the American people nor our allies abroad can support a covert war that’s killing thousands of people around the world without clear and public explanation.”

The Obama administration passed up the opportunity to send a witness to testify at the hearing.

"The decision illustrates the limits of President Barack Obama’s pledge in his State of the Union speech on Feb. 12 to provide greater transparency into top-secret drone operations that have killed thousands of suspected terrorists in Pakistan, Somalia and Yemen," McClatchy reported last week.

“We do not currently plan to send a witness to this hearing and have remained in close contact with the committee about how we can best provide them the information they require,” Caitlin Hayden, a National Security Council spokeswoman, wrote in an email to McClatchy.


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