A U.S. drone strike on a recent wedding procession in Yemen — that left 12 people dead and at least 15 wounded — raises serious doubts about the Obama administration's claim that so-called targeted killings do not harm civilians, charged Human Rights Watch in a report released Thursday.
Entitled A Wedding That Became a Funeral: US Drone Attack on Marriage Procession in Yemen, the 28-page report demands that the U.S. government investigate the incident and publicly account for any slaughter of civilians or violation of international law.
“The U.S. refusal to explain a deadly attack on a marriage procession raises critical questions about the administration’s compliance with its own targeted killing policy,” said Letta Tayler, senior terrorism and counterterrorism researcher at Human Rights Watch and author of the report. “All Yemenis, especially the families of the dead and wounded, deserve to know why this wedding procession became a funeral.”
The report decribes in harrowing detail the December 12th, 2013 launch of four hellfire missiles at a wedding procession near the city of Rad’a.
"Blood was everywhere, the bodies of the people who were killed and injured were scattered everywhere," testified Abdullah Muhammad al-Tisi, a local sheikh, who was injured and lost his son Ali Abdullah, a 36-year-old father of three, in the attack. "I saw the missile hit the car that was just behind the car driven by my son. I went there to check on my son. I found him tossed to the side. I turned him over and he was dead. He was struck in his face, neck, and chest. My son, Ali!"
U.S. and Yemeni officials have claimed that the attack killed "militants," and the U.S. government has refused to provide any explanation or evidence.
Yet, numerous witnesses to the attack and relatives of the deceased told HRW that the dead were civilians. According to the report, Yemeni authorities later tacitly acknowledged this. "After the attack, angry residents blocked a main road in Rad`a, a provincial capital in central Yemen, while displaying the bodies of those killed," the report reads. "Provincial authorities then unofficially acknowledged civilian casualties by providing money and assault rifles—a traditional gesture of apology—to the families of the dead and wounded."
The report adds to the crescendo of voices from within Yemen and across the world warning of the high civilian death rates caused by U.S. drone strikes — a toll that is well-documented, despite Obama's repeated denials. Many have gone a step further than HRW by demanding an immediate halt to U.S. covert drone strikes, in light of the death, trauma, and injury they spread.
"Whatever we do, they [the US] will never look at us as human beings," said the mother of Aref al-Taysi, who was killed in the attack on the wedding procession, in a January interview with Al Jazeera English reporter Rooj Alwazir. "We wear wounds they can't see."