A week ago, I was at a Pakistani community event in Orlando. The host tapped me on the shoulder, and whispered, “tell them how you stopped the drones.”
So I told them. I’ll tell you, too.
On October 29, 2013, I hosted the first Congressional briefing with the testimony of drone warfare victims.
About a year prior to that hearing, a grandmother in her sixties was picking okra in her garden in a small village in South Waziristan, in Pakistan. Her nine-year-old granddaughter was with her. Neither one was an enemy of the United States. Neither one was a threat to any American. Neither one was any kind of militant. In fact, neither really had ever given much thought to the United States.
A U.S. military drone flew overhead. It bombed them. The grandmother screamed and died. Her body was so butchered that the villagers would not allow her own children to see it.
Her granddaughter was permanently injured. She can’t walk anymore.
The grandmother joined the 1000 innocent victims of American drone warfare in Pakistan. A list that includes almost 200 children. By most accounts, between 10 percent and 30 percent of drone victims were guilty of nothing but being in the wrong place, at the wrong time. “Collateral damage” is the bloodless term that’s used.
During that hearing, one broken family got to tell its sad story to Congress, to the world. The son of the victim, Rafiq ur Rehman, spoke first. He and his mother lived in a village with no utilities, far from any road. He is a teacher. His mother was the village storyteller. In the eyes of the villagers, he said in elegy and in eulogy, she was “the string that held the pearls on a necklace.” And now she is gone.
His two children also testified. His daughter, who was with her grandmother that fateful day, spoke about her injuries. One of the children said that they used to pray for blue skies, because they were so beautiful. Now they pray for gray skies, because the drones are absent – temporarily.
Momina Bibi’s family wanted to know why the United States had killed Grandma. I didn’t have an answer. And I still don’t why we kill so many innocent people in the name of our own security. But at least I was able to listen to this family, and learn. I heard their story, every single word of it. I bore witness to this gross injustice, and the pain it brought them.
The hearing room was filled wall-to-wall with Pakistani media. U.S. media, not so much. At the end of the hearing, a Pakistani reporter told me that the Pakistani Government was telling the public that it had no way to stop the American drone attacks.
I said, “the Pakistani Government could stop the drone attacks tomorrow. There is no way that these attacks could take place at all, without the permission of the Pakistani Government.”
Cameras clicked. Reporters scribbled notes, and started dialing on their phones. That was the headline in the next day’s newspapers, all over Pakistan.
For several years before our hearing, there had been a fatal drone attack in Pakistan every two weeks. Shortly after our hearing, they stopped for an entire year. An entire year where blue skies no longer signified danger. An entire year of peace.
I wish I could tell them that that was all over for good. But I can’t do that.
Today, the Republican nominee for President of the United States not only has advocated more drone attacks, but has openly demanded that they be used to kill the children and families of those we suspect to be terrorists. And within our own borders, we suspected that a child was a terrorist because he built a clock for a school project.
Momina Bibi is dead. She will not be telling any more grand, poetic and lyrical stories to her fellow villagers. There is no way to bring her back to life, or even to reassemble what’s left of the parts of her body. But if we’re willing to recognize that what happened to Momina Bibi, what happened to her granddaughter, and what has happened to so many others was wrong, if we are willing to listen and bear witness to these atrocities, and if we are willing to dedicate our energy to stop this from happening ever again, then Momina Bibi will not have died in vain.
Momina Bibi’s family had the courage to come forward, and tell their story. This election cycle, we need to have the courage to listen, and do something about it. We need to vote and speak and spend against anyone who is in favor of, or stays silent on, drones. We need to come together and support champions for peace.
And if we don’t? Then more innocent people will die.
How do you feel about that?
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