Shepherds & Farmers—Not Militants—Were Killed in US Drone Strike on Wedding Convoy in Yemen

Baraa Shiban, Reprieve’s Yemen Project Coordinator who investigates drone strikes

A human rights organization, Reprieve, has shared a report on a United States drone strike that killed twelve men and wounded dozens more in a wedding convoy near Radda in December. The report is based off interviews with local villagers and features eyewitness accounts of the one of the worst drone attacks in the history of Yemen.

According to NBC News, Baraa Shiban of Reprieve, a human rights organization based in the United Kingdom, investigated the drone attack and found that a “convoy of 11 cars and trucks carrying about 60 people traveling from the home of the bride to the neighboring village of the groom” was “waiting in a valley for more guests to join.” A drone approached and, according to Ahmed Mohammed Al Shafe’ee, a 70-year-old shepherd, a “loud explosion” was heard from the valley.

When Al Shafe’ee arrived, bodies were scattered all over. He found out that his 25-year-old son, who was the father of seven, including a baby born just fifteen days ago, was one of the people killed in the attack.

The women and children were screaming and crying. They live in a remote area of Yemen and there are few places to run from the drones. “We live in fear day and night. Our children and women cannot sleep,” Al Shafe’ee apparently told Shiban.

From a list of men killed in the drone attack, Shiban concluded they were “shepherds and [qat] farmers, who ranged in age from 20 to 65.”

Reports of civilians killed have circulated in Yemen ever since the attack. The Yemen government found the reports credible enough to compensate a local tribe for what happened.

According to NBC News, President Barack Obama’s administration is apparently investigating the drone strike. White House National Security Staff spokeswoman Caitlin Hayden stated:

Before we take any counterterrorism strike outside areas of active hostilities, there must be near-certainty that no civilians will be killed or injured – the highest standard we can set…And when we believe that civilians may have been killed, we investigate thoroughly.

An anonymous US official told NBC News, “Given that there are claims of civilian casualties, we are reviewing it.”

Shepherds & Farmers—Not Militants—Were Killed in US Drone Strike on Wedding Convoy in Yemen

Baraa Shiban, Reprieve’s Yemen Project Coordinator who investigates drone strikes

A human rights organization, Reprieve, has shared a report on a United States drone strike that killed twelve men and wounded dozens more in a wedding convoy near Radda in December. The report is based off interviews with local villagers and features eyewitness accounts of the one of the worst drone attacks in the history of Yemen.

According to NBC News, Baraa Shiban of Reprieve, a human rights organization based in the United Kingdom, investigated the drone attack and found that a “convoy of 11 cars and trucks carrying about 60 people traveling from the home of the bride to the neighboring village of the groom” was “waiting in a valley for more guests to join.” A drone approached and, according to Ahmed Mohammed Al Shafe’ee, a 70-year-old shepherd, a “loud explosion” was heard from the valley.

When Al Shafe’ee arrived, bodies were scattered all over. He found out that his 25-year-old son, who was the father of seven, including a baby born just fifteen days ago, was one of the people killed in the attack.

The women and children were screaming and crying. They live in a remote area of Yemen and there are few places to run from the drones. “We live in fear day and night. Our children and women cannot sleep,” Al Shafe’ee apparently told Shiban.

From a list of men killed in the drone attack, Shiban concluded they were “shepherds and [qat] farmers, who ranged in age from 20 to 65.”

Reports of civilians killed have circulated in Yemen ever since the attack. The Yemen government found the reports credible enough to compensate a local tribe for what happened.

According to NBC News, President Barack Obama’s administration is apparently investigating the drone strike. White House National Security Staff spokeswoman Caitlin Hayden stated:

Before we take any counterterrorism strike outside areas of active hostilities, there must be near-certainty that no civilians will be killed or injured – the highest standard we can set…And when we believe that civilians may have been killed, we investigate thoroughly.

An anonymous US official told NBC News, “Given that there are claims of civilian casualties, we are reviewing it.”

It has not been the public standard to investigate drone strikes when allegations of civilians killed have been reported. For example, in September 2012, an attack in Yemen reportedly killed 13 civilians. The Obama administration maintained silence, and, despite requests for comment, never suggested it was investigating the strike because there were claims civilians were killed.

In fact, days before Obama was re-elected as president, Yemen President Abdu Rabbu Mansour Hadi visited the US and praised drones. “They pinpoint the target and have zero margin of error, if you know what target you’re aiming at,” he said. It indicated Yemen would continue to be a client state of the US in the war on terrorism.

Just this year, when reports from human rights groups—Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch—were released, the White House said nothing about regularly investigating strikes when allegations spread that civilians were killed.  And, in Obama’s speech at the National Defense University in May 2013, where he addressed the issue of drone strikes, he did not say anything about the US having a responsibility to investigate whether civilians were killed if allegations of civilian casualties were made. Instead, he sought to downplay the risk that drones pose to civilians.

This statement from a spokeswoman for the White House National Security Staff should be viewed with an over-abundant amount of skepticism. What does it mean there’s an “investigation”? If civilians are found to be killed, is there even a process for accountability or taking responsibility for an “error” or, worse, a war crime? Is there even a mechanism setup for compensating these individuals? Why should we think anything will happen that meaningfully addresses the rage of Yemenis when the administration still insists on speaking only “generally” about drone strikes to shield the CIA and other government agencies from having to disclose information on the policy and legal basis for drone attacks?

Should one view this is as anything other than some public relations ploy to dupe Yemenis into believing their dead family or community members actually matter to the Obama administration? (more…)