The US has been stepping up drone strikes in Pakistan, following a lull after US airstrikes killed 24 Pakistani soldiers in 2011. Rafiq ur Rehman, a Pakistani primary school teacher has felt personally and profoundly the impact of US drone strikes in his country. Not only were his three young children, aged 5 to 13, injured, but his 67-year-old mother was killed by US drones. Rehman has traveled to Washington DC and appeared before members of Congress today to describe his experience. This is the first time in US history that lawmakers were hearing directly from the survivors of a US drone strike. The Voice of Russia discussed it with Shahzad Akbar, the attorney of Rehmans’ family and director of Foundation for Fundamental Rights, that protects human rights in Pakistan.
Why did Mr. Rehman and his family decide to go to Washington DC?
It was very important for the American public and, especially, the American law-makers to hear the witness on the ground, because of what President Obama has been telling about drone strikes to his own people and his own Congress that these are very precise attacks on militants and bad people. And here is the situation on the ground, Rafiq ur Rehman and his tragedy is just one story out of hundreds of civilians, including women and children, who have been killed. And since recent international organizations are calling drone strikes in Pakistan amounting to war crimes. So, it was very important visit for Mr. Rehman personally and it was very kind of Congressman Alan Grayson who organized the hearing.
And this is the first time that any survivor of a drone strike has actually testified in front of the US Government. Of course, I think that is a huge revolution as far as bringing to the light the problems that surround drone strikes.
This is definitely the first time for any drone strike victim and survivor, and particularly young children like Nabeela and Zubair who were there, to travel to the US and tell their story. And they are also highlighting this tragic impact that drones are having on the whole area of North Waziristan, where drones are concentrating and on a daily basis dozens of drones are flying in the air, and people living under drones are facing a huge psychological impact of that. And this is the first time that congressmen will be hearing this from the witnesses on the ground and have been living and suffering under drones for the last 9 years.
What results did today’s Congressional briefing attended by Mr. Rehman bring?
We are hoping that the congressmen who were present at the hearing will be calling for transparency and accountability of American officials for their acts. And because of that Mr. Rehman will be able to get some justice, because what is happening is that the Pakistani courts have already declared drone strikes illegal and a violation of Pakistani and international law. But the US is not listening to any decisions. And it is very difficult for the victims of drone strikes to go on their own all the way to the International Court of Justice which jurisdiction the US is not adhered to. So, I think it is the right form for the victims to speak and the right people would be the US lawmakers that would push their Government to address these grave actions the US has been doing in Pakistan for the last 9 years.
Were there journalists, were they allowed to be present during that testimonial by Mr. Rehman? Were they present at that congressional hearing, briefing? And will he be speaking to any journalists specifically about his experience?
I believe there were many journalists. A huge number of media turned up for the hearing. And it was widely covered. Mr. Rehman spoke with the CNN and HP and Al Jazeera yesterday. And he will be speaking with more American mainstream media in the coming days. I, unfortunately, could not accompany Mr. Rehman and his family because the US has once again refused me visa to enter the US for my criticism of their drone program, and for challenging their actions in court of law.
That’ s of course a very brave thing for Mr. Rehman to come out and try to change the way America looks at these drone strikes. And I’m wondering, will he also be appealing in any way for any kind of compensation for the damage that was done by the drone strikes?
I think what Mr. Rehman along with all other victims of drone strikes are looking at is justice and not just in the form of compensation. I think that will not be just for the people, because those people who are responsible for drone strikes and targeting a huge number of civilians need to pay for their wrongdoings. And there has to be an independent investigation of their wrongdoings and any question of compensation can be settled afterwards.
Do you expect that Mr. Rehman’s story and his direct appeal to American lawmakers will change anything as far as the US drone use policy?
I think it will be a big burnt on President Obama’s drone policy and Americans he is trying to convince in his own country that drones are only targeting militants. I think after this testimony the congressmen present at this hearing would actually address the question that the narrative needs to be changed and there needs to be more vigilance over the program or even a stop to it. So, I think this will help reach out to the larger American audience and will eventually help drones to be stopped and bring justice to the victims of drone strikes.
The new film titled "Unmanned: America’s Drone wars" by Robert Greenwald exposes the truth about the US counter-terror policy in Pakistan. The use of the most deadly type of drone, as well as "signature strikes" against so-called militants and terrorists, whose identities are not always known, has become a distinctive feature of Barack Obama’s presidency.
The full-length film is being released on October 30, 2013. The documentary will only be available to stream online for a limited time. Stay with the Voice of Russia to get the latest on the film.