Transcript: Yemeni activist Farea Al-Muslimi’s testimony on drones & targeted killing – Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on April 23, 2013

Partial transcript of testimony by Farea Al-Muslimi, youth activist and freelance journalist from Sana’a, Yemen, on the “Drone Wars: The Constitutional and Counter-Terrorism Implications of Targeted Killing”. The Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Human Rights hearing was held on April 23, 2013:

Thank you, Chairman Durbin and Ranking Member Cruz for inviting me out today. My name, as you mentioned, is Farea Al-Muslimi and I’m from Wessab, a remote village mountain in Yemen.

Just six days ago, my village was struck by an American drone in an attack that terrified the region’s poor farmers.

Wessab is my village but America has helped me grow up and become what I am today.

I come from a family that lives off the fruit, vegetables, and livestocks we raise in our farms. My father’s income rarely exceeded $200. He learned to read late in his life and my mother never did.

My life, however, has been different. I am who I am today because the U.S. State Department supported my education. I spent a year living with an American family and attended an American high school. That was one of the best years of my life. I learned about American culture, managed the school basketball team, and participated in trick or treat in Halloween.

But the most exceptional is an experience – the most exceptional experience was coming to know someone who ended up being like a father to me. He was a member of the U.S. Air Force. Most of my year was spent with him and his family. He came to the mosque with me and I went to church with him. And he became my best friend in America.

I went to the U.S. as an ambassador for Yemen and I came back to Yemen as an ambassador for the U.S.

I could never have imagined that the same hand that changed my life and took it from miserable to a promising one would also drone my village.

My understanding is that a man named Hameed Al-Radmi [also known as Hameed Meftah] was the target for drone strike. Many people in Wessab know Al-Radmi and the Yemeni government could easily have found and arrested him. Al-Radmi was well-known to government officials and even local government could have captured him if the U.S. had told them to do so.

In the past, what Wessab villagers knew of the U.S. was based on my stories about my wonderful experiences here. The friendships and values I experienced and described to the villagers helped them understand the America that I know and that I love.

Now, however, when they think of America, they think of the terror they feel from the drones that hover over their heads ready to fire missiles at any time. What the violent militants have previously failed to achieve, one drone strike accomplished in an instant.

There is now an intense anger against America in Wessab.

This is not an isolated instance. The drone strikes are the face of America to many Yemenis.
I have spoken to many victims of U.S. drone strikes, like a mother in Ja’ar who had to identify her innocent 18-year-old son’s body through a video in stranger’s cell phone.

Or the father in Shaqra who held his 4 and 6-year-old children as they died in his arms.
Recently in Aden, I spoke with one of the tribal leaders present in 2009 at the place where the U.S. cruise missiles targeted the village of Al-Majalah in Lawdar, Abyan. More than 40 civilians were killed, including 4 pregnant women. The tribal leader and others tried to rescue the victims but the bodies were so decimated that it was impossible to differentiate the children, women, and their animals. Some of these innocent people were buried in the same grave as their animals.

In my written testimony, I provided detail about the human cost of this and that of the drone strikes based on the interviews I have conducted or have been part of.

I have a personal experience of fear – of the fear they cause. Late last year, I was in Abyan with an American journalist colleague. Suddenly, I heard the buzz. The local people we were interviewing told us that based on their past experiences the thing hovering above us was an American drone.

My heart sank. I felt helpless. It was the first time that I have truly feared for my life or for an American friend’s life in Yemen.

I couldn’t help but think that the drone operator just might be my American friend with whom I have the warmest and deepest relationship.

I was torn between this great country that I love and the drone above my head that could not differentiate between me and some AQAP [Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula] militants. It was one of the most divisive and difficult feelings I have ever encountered. I felt that way when my village was also droned.

Thank you for having this hearing. I believe in America, and I deeply believe that when Americans truly know about how much pain and suffering the U.S. airstrikes have caused and how much they are harming efforts to win hearts, minds, and grounds in Yemen and the hearts and minds of the Yemeni people, they will reject this devastating targeted killing program.

Thank you.

[Applause]

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