Read the Transcript of the Testimony by a Yemeni youth activist, Farea Al-Muslimi in first ever historic Senate public hearing on President Obama’s Secret Drone and Targeted Killing Program, before the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Constitution, Civil Rights and Human Rights chaired by Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL).
Sen. Dick Durbin:
Farea Al-Muslimi is a Yemneni youth activist, writer and a freelance journalist. He has co-founded and chaired several local youth initiatives in Yemen. He currently works for Resonate! Yemen, a grassroots youth-run foundation aimed at constructively engaging Yemeni youth and public policy dialogue. With the assistance of US State Department scholarship, Farea studied in the US during high school, he attended the American University of Beirut and graduated with degree in Public Policy from that institution last year.
Mr. Al-Muslimi (I hope I pronounced your name close to correct), Thank you for traveling form Yemen to join us today, I am looking forward to your testimony. Please proceed.
Thank you chairman Durbin and ranking member, Cruz for inviting me here today.
My name, as you mentioned is Farea Al-Muslimi and I am 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 livestock that we raise in our farms. My father’s income rarely exceeded 200 Dollars. 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 US State Department supported my education. I spent a year living in American family and attended 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 experience was coming to know someone who ended up being like a father to me. He was a member of the US 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 US as an ambassador for Yemen and I came back to Yemen as an ambassador of the US.
Describing the Drone Strike
I could never imagine that the same hand that changed my life and took it from miserable to promising one would also drone my village. My understanding is that a man named Hameed Al-Radmi was the target of the drone strike. Many people in Wessab know Al-Radmi and the Yemeni government could easily have found and arrested him. Al-Radmi was a well knowing to government officials and even to local government, and even local government could have captured him if the US has told them to do so.
Impact and Ramifications of Drone Strikes:
In the past, what Wessab villagers knew of the US was based on my stories about my wonderful experiences here (in US). The friendships and vales I experience 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 felt to achieve, one drone strike accomplished in an instance. 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 US drone strikes: like a mother in Ja’ar (one of the villages targeted by American drones in Yemen) who had to identify her innocent 18 year old son’s body through a video on a stranger’s cell phone. Or the father in Shaqra (village in Yemen) 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 US cruise missiles targeted the village of Al- Majalah in Lawdar, Abyan. More than 40 civilians were killed, including 4 pregnant women. The tribal leaders and others tried to rescue the victims but the bodies were so disseminated that it was impossible to differentiate between those of the children, women and their animals. Some of these innocent people were buried in the same grave as their animals.
My Personal Experience
In my written testimony I provide the details of human cost of this and other drone strikes based on the interviews I have conducted or have been part of. I have a personal experience of the fear they caused. 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 experience that the thing hovering above us was an American drone.
My heart sank. I felt helpless. It was the first time that I had 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 had the warmest and deepest relationship here. 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 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 US airstrikes have caused and how much they are harming efforts to win the hearts, minds and grounds in Yemen, and hearts and minds of Yemeni people, they will reject this devastating targeted killing program.