Victims of US Drones Launch Organization in Yemen to Investigate Strikes, Call Attention to Civilian Impact
By: Kevin Gosztola
Ali al-Qawli’s family holding his photoMohammad al-Qawli is an advisor to the Ministry of Education in Yemen. His brother, who was a primary school teacher, was killed in a drone strike by the United States in January 2013. The Yemeni government later confirmed that his brother did not have any ties to any militants. And now, over a year after his brother’s death, he has founded an organization to commemorate civilians killed by US drones and help assist communities impacted by drones.
The organization is called the National Organization for Drone Victims (NODV). According to a press statement from the human rights organization, Reprieve, al-Qawli declared at the launch that he hoped this organization would push the world to "sit up and listen to the voice of the Yemeni people."
"My brother Ali was a primary school teacher – he was not a terrorist; he dedicated his life to children’s education," al-Qawli further stated. "This event is an opportunity to bring ordinary people together to stand shoulder to shoulder to send a peaceful message to the US and Yemeni administrations."
The families of victims, who lost loved ones in seven different drone strikes in five different provinces in Yemen, were present at an event held to mark the launch of this organization. "Many brought personal items belonging to their deceased loved ones." For example, "the stethoscope of a doctor who had been killed while treating another drone victim," was at the event.
Faisal bin ali Jaber, a Yemeni civil engineer whose brother-in-law and nephew were killed by a drone in August 2012, spoke at the event. (Jaber traveled to the US to address members of Congress last year.)
According to Reprieve, this organization will seek to provide assistance to those affected by drone strikes and will work to address " the economic impact of the loss of families’ primary bread-winners; psychological trauma— particularly in children; and physical injuries." It will also investigate and publish reports on drone strikes and their effects with the hoal of "changing government policy regarding the secretive US program."
Any Yemeni deciding to investigate US drone strikes is likely to face risks. This year, after a deadly drone attack on a wedding convoy, a Yemeni researcher Baraa Shiban, who was working for Reprieve, received a death threat
"The caller refused to identify himself and threatened my life if I continued my investigation of the strike," Shiban told Al Jazeera.
Shiban had conducted investigations in the past and never received threats. But now, after interviewing survivors two days after the attack and finding out that 12 people had been killed, he faced the possibility of being attacked in retaliation.
Journalist Abdulelah Haider Shaye, who was released last year, was ordered to be kept in prison by President Barack Obama. He investigated a horrific cruise missile attack on al-Majalah, where at least 21 children and 14 women were killed. He became a target for his interest in covering the impact of US covert operations on Yemeni communities.
Moreover, the psychological harm that children experience from witnessing or being impacted by drone strikes is not imagined but very real.
A boy in Yemen, who "suffered from serious psychological trauma" after witnessing a US drone strike, died in March. He experienced a "sharp drop" in his blood pressure and glucose, according to Gulf News.
Hamza Hassan bin Dahaman had post-traumatic stress disorder. Fighting back tears, his father said after the funeral, "My son was haunted by the bodies of those people who were killed in Shiher’s stadium in December 2012." (The strike is believed to have killed at least four people, who were probably low-level fighters "battling the local government." Children had been nearby playing in a soccer field.)
Dahaman’s older brother recalled that he had talked gibberish after the strike. "He said to me, 'my throat would fall into my stomach’. He used to be glued to the mirror and stay in the bathroom for hours. Sometimes he fell down when he walked."
Clinical and forensic psychologist Dr. Peter Schaapveld conducted an assessment of the psychological impact of drone strikes. What he found most disturbing is how they turn children into "hollowed-out shells." They lose their "spark."
According to Channel 4 News, Dr. Schaapveld met a young girl whose father said she "vomits every day, and also when she hears aircraft, or drones, or anything related." She experiences recurring nightmares and dreams of "dead people, planes and people running around scared."
It makes children not want to go to school. They no longer can form relationships with other children and make friends. As Kat Craig, the legal director at Reprieve said, this demonstrates that their use amounts to a "form of psychological torture and collective punishment."