The family of a Pakistani grandmother killed by an alleged U.S. drone strike last year will appear before Congress Tuesday to describe their experience as survivors of an attack, and to ask the question: Why was 67-year-old Momina Bibi targeted that day?
Speaking through a translater to MSNBC’s Martin Bashir on Monday, Rafiq ur Rehman described the day his mother was killed. “It was the day before Eid, and after school I came back home and mother said, ‘Here are some things I need you to get from the bazaar so we can get ready for the Eid celebration.’ So I had gone to the bazaar. I wanted my mom to come with me, but she said, ‘That’s okay, tomorrow we’ll all be together. You go get the stuff.’”
It was the last time Rehman would see his mother. On his way home, at the entrance of his village, he noticed a newly dug grave in the allotted area for his family members. “At that moment,” Rehman said, “I knew something had happened, and I was very worried.”
Rehman asked some children in the village what happened. They told him the mother of Latif Rehman, his older brother, had been hit by a drone strike.
“At that moment I was under a full shock, and I just wanted to faint. I felt as if a limb had been cut off from me for losing my mother,” he said. Rehman asked to see his mother’s body, but his neighbors and relatives refused. “They said, ‘You don’t want to see it,’ because later I found out that the drone had blown her to pieces. They’d collected all the pieces–the remains–and put it in a box to bury.”
Rehman’s children, Zubair and Nabeela, were with Momina Bibi the day she was killed. They described the excitement in the village around the Eid celebrations, and had gone outside to help their grandmother collect the harvest when they heard a drumming noise in the sky.
“We were outside, and we had heard a ‘dum-dum’ noise, and we saw two missiles going down into the ground,” Zubair described. “At that moment, it had become as if we couldn’t tell the difference between night and day. It became dark all of a sudden, and we heard an explosion sound, and I could hear my grandmother crying.”
Zubair, who said he felt like he had been set on fire, was taken to the hospital for injuries to his leg. His sister, Nabeela, was also injured that day, and she recalled her fear as she ran from the garden.
“Everything was dark. I couldn’t see anything, but I had heard a cry and the next thing I knew I saw blood coming out of my hand. I tried to wipe it away with my shawl, but the blood wouldn’t stop,” she said. “I didnt know where to run, but I was just running and trying to wipe the blood away.”
Rehman said he didn’t know much about the accuracy of drone strikes, but he knew one thing for sure: his mother didn’t deserve to die. “If they’re trying to target people, I don’t know why they would be targeting my mother and my children, and a family of teachers. I don’t believe that this was just.”
With the help of Florida Rep. Alan Grayson, Rehman and his children will appear before Congress at a briefing on Tuesday. In a piece for The Guardian last week, Rehman wrote that he hopes his story will help Americans put real faces to the victims of drone strikes. “Drone strikes are not like other battles where innocent people are accidentally killed. Drone strikes target people before they kill them. The United States decides to kill someone, a person they only know from a video. A person who is not given a chance to say–I am not a terrorist. The US chose to kill my mother,” he wrote.
The briefing will be the first time Congress will hear from survivors of an alleged drone strike. On Sunday’s Meet the Press, Rep. Peter King defended the use of drones, arguing that criticism over the drone program is misguided. “I think we should stop being apologetic about drones,” King said. “We should be standing by our military, standing by the intelligence agencies.”
“Every war there is collateral damage. Unfortunately innocent people are killed. But the effort that the U.S. takes to protect innocent lives, I say, is unprecedented,” King said.
Rehman doesn’t believe King’s argument is enough.
“What I want to tell people is that by using violence, this is not the solution,” Rehman said. “Innocent people’s lives are at stake, and if America wants to solve problems that are occuring in my country, then they should use negotiatons, discussions to promote understanding, not violence.”