Nabeela ur-Rehman is nine years old. On October 24, 2012, one year ago this Thursday, she was playing outside her home in Ghundi Kala, a village in Pakistan’s North Waziristan tribal region, when missiles hit her family’s fields. The drone strike killed Nabeela’s sixty-eight-year-old grandmother, Mamana Bibi, the village’s only midwife. Nabeela tried to run, but her body was too badly burned. She had to be rushed to the hospital with shrapnel wounds. Her older brother, Zubair, thirteen, was taken to Islamabad and then, when the medical costs grew too steep, to Peshawar, for surgery to remove shrapnel from his leg. Her little sister Asma, seven, has had problems hearing ever since.
North Waziristan, a hub of Taliban activity, has suffered more drone strikes than any other part of the country. A study released Tuesday by Amnesty International determined that at least nineteen civilians in North Waziristan had been killed in forty-five known drone strikes since January of 2012, when President Obama avowed that his drone program was “kept on a very tight leash” and had not caused “a huge number of civilian casualties.”
Nabeela’s grandmother was one of these civilian victims. Mamana Bibi, the Amnesty reportsaid, “was killed in a double strike, apparently by a Hellfire missile, as she picked vegetables in the family’s fields while surrounded by a handful of her grandchildren.”
Nabeela’s father, Rafeeq, is an elementary-school teacher; he was returning from evening prayers in a nearby town when the attack took place. Next week, Rafeeq, Zubair, and Nabeela are traveling from Pakistan to Washington, D.C., to appear at an October 29 briefing in Congress. It will be the first time that American legislators hear direct testimony from civilian victims of a drone strike.
The Rehmans were scheduled to travel with Shahzad Akbar, a lawyer who has represented more than a hundred and fifty survivors of drone strikes in litigation against the United States and against Pakistan, for failing to protect its citizens against C.I.A. drone strikes. Akbar is the director of the Foundation for Fundamental Rights, a Pakistani human-rights group, and a legal fellow with the British N.G.O. Reprieve. The family’s visas have been approved, but Akbar’s has not, although he submitted his application in August, with arequest for approval by Florida Democrat Alan Grayson, the Congressman who called the briefings. In fact, although Akbar used to visit the United States frequently, and says that for two years he held a U.S. diplomatic visa, he has had difficulty obtaining one since he began to investigate C.I.A. drone strikes.
A State Department spokeswoman told the Guardian last month that “two agents” were reviewing its questions about Akbar’s visa. But Akbar believes that another government agency is blocking his visit: “We brought litigation, civil litigation, and civil charges against C.I.A. officials in Pakistan for their role in drone strikes,” he told the newspaper. “I think it’s pretty clear that I have been blacklisted because of that.”
Unless Akbar is granted a visa in the coming days, the lawyer Jennifer Gibson will accompany Rafeeq, Zubair, and Nabeela to the Capitol. Nabeela, who is tasked with describing the afternoon when her grandmother was killed, has been making crayon drawings that feature green flowers, houses, and trees, with birds—and black aircraft—flying above. On one, her brother Zubair has added a title, in Urdu: “American Drone.”
Photograph by Eduardo Diaz, courtesy of the Foundation for Fundamental Rights.