We’re vaporizing Pakistani grandmas—is that what President Obama means by American exceptionalism?
Nine-year-old Nabila Rehman rested her head on the table.
Nabila, a shy girl with startling hazel eyes and red streaks in her dark hair, along with her father Rafiq and 13-year-old brother Zubair, have told the story of the day when a drone fell from the sky in their village in North Waziristan so many times. By Tuesday morning the tale was rote — even if this particular retelling was before U.S. lawmakers, at a briefing which was the first opportunity for members of Congress to hear directly from Pakistani victims of American drones.
It was October 24, 2012, the day before the Islamic holy day of Eid-al-Adha in North Waziristan. Zubair, Nabila, their little sister, five-year-old Asma, and some of their cousins were all in the fields beside their house as their grandmother, 67-year-old Momina Bibi, showed them how to tell when the okra was ripe for picking.
Zubair knew the drones were circling overhead; he has known their distinctive buzzing since he was even younger — a methodical zung, zung, zung, he says.
“It’s something that even a 2-year-old would know,” he said in Pashto, speaking to Al Jazeera through a translator. “We hear the noise 24 hours a day.”
Before the missile hit, he remembers hearing two clicks, like a trigger being pulled. Suddenly, day seemed to turn to night as they were enveloped in darkness and heat. Their grandmother, Momina Bibi, was thrown 20 feet away and killed instantly.
Zubair, Nabila and the other children wounded in the attack were taken to a hospital. Zubair had shrapnel lodged in his leg — an injury that would take expensive laser surgeries to heal — while Nabila looked down to see her hand bleeding.
“I tried to bandage my hand but the blood wouldn’t stop,” she said. “The blood kept coming.”
The Rehmans traveled halfway across the world, from their remote village of Tappi, to tell their story, and to urge lawmakers to put an end to the covert CIA program of “targeted killings” in Pakistan, Yemen and elsewhere. They also participated in an Amnesty International report about casualties of drones and a documentary by filmmaker Robert Greenwald, called Unmanned. According to the London-based Bureau of Investigative Journalism, 376 total strikes have taken place in Pakistan, killing up to 926 civilians, and as many as 200 children.
The Obama administration, for its part, until recently did not even acknowledge the existence of the program.
See? He probably doesn’t even know. He didn’t know bubkes about Benghazi, about the IRS, about the NSA, about EdselCare—what’s he going to know about a grandma picking okra with her grandkids?
Ultimately, only five members of Congress arrived at the briefing to hear their testimony Tuesday morning: Rep. Alan Grayson of Florida, who organized the briefing, along with Reps. Jan Schakowsky, D-Ill., Rush Holt, D-N.J., John Conyers, D-Mich., and Rick Nolan, D-Minn.
I’m actually kind of ashamed only five congressmen showed up, none of them Republican. Still, maybe one of the Democrats can get word to Obama, and he can find out whose ass to kick.
“What radicals had previously failed to achieve in my village,” al-Muslimi said, “one drone strike accomplished in an instant: there is now an intense anger and growing hatred of America,” adding that he has ”seen al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula use U.S. strikes to promote its agenda and try to recruit more terrorists.”
The drones are an important tool in counterterrorism, no doubt. But President Obama has a Big Problem here. Under President Bush, a rabidly ruthless press would hound him until he changed policy (see the successful surge in Iraq). This press corps is complicit—accessories before, during, and after the fact.