Innocent people are killed in US drone attacks

7:44 min

The U.S. war against terrorism is increasingly being fought by drones, unmanned remote-controlled aircraft, in countries like Yemen, Pakistan and Somalia. The U.S. claims that this is the most effective way to combat  Al Qaeda, without killing innocent people. But in an investigation of one of the recent attacks in Yemen, in which four people died, it appears that at least two of the dead were completely innocent. Also, that the probable target of the strike could easily have been arrested, instead of killed.

On the 23 of January a car travelling on the road, one hour's drive south of the Yemeni capital Sanaa, when it was hit by a drone strike. The ground is still black with ashes on the spot where the car exploded.

– All four men sitting in the car were blown to pieces, says Khalil Lahib, a relative of one of the dead, while picking up bits of cloth and tiny pieces of human bone and tissue from the ground.

– This is a piece of the skull, he says.

Another man appears. He is carrying an object. A partially intact Hellfire missile, the type of missile commonly used by drones.

The number  of drone attacks in Yemen has risen sharply in recent years as part of the fight against the terror network Al Qaeda. It is estimated that over 300 people have been killed by drones in Yemen alone

According to CIA director John Brennan drone attacks are very useful in the war against Al Qaeda. He gave a rare speech on the subject in April last year.

– With the unprecedented ability of remotely piloted aircraft to precisely target a military objective while minimizing collateral damage, one could argue that never before has there been a weapon that allows us to distinguish more effectively between an al-Qaida terrorist and innocent civilians, said Brennan in a speech last April, he continued:

– It’s this surgical precision, the ability, with laser-like focus, to eliminate the cancerous tumour called an al-Qaida terrorist while limiting damage to the tissue around it, that makes this counterterrorism tool so essential.

The small office of the village school is packed with people. Local tribesmen, upset and sad line the walls, In the middle of the room stands a nine year old boy, his hands folding a tiny photograph of a man. His father.

– It was the Americans who killed him, says the boy, Ali while struggling to hold back the tears.

The driver of the car was a 22 year old literature student who free-lanced as a taxi driver and  with him in the car was his friend,  the teacher Ali al Qawli. The boy's father.

– I wonder how my younger siblings and I will be able to live without my father, who will give us money, who will play tag with us now, Ali says.

We get to see a document from the Yemeni Interior Ministry written after the attack.

The document states that the teacher and the student were completely innocent. They were not suspected of any crime nor linked to any terror organization

Not far from the school, we meet up with the student's father, Hussain Ahmad Alqawli.

– I want to tell them you kill innocent civilians and you don’t have the right to kill them this way. You can arrest suspected people and prosecute them, and then the guilty goes to prison but do not kill them this way! says Hussain Ahmad Alqawli.

The authorities wanted to give him and the other relatives of the victims 20,000 dollars in compensation 

– We refused to take it. It's a price for a cow not an innocent human being, says Hussain Ahmad Algaweli.

The probable targets of the drone attack were two men sitting in the back seat of the car, Rabee Hamoud Lahib and Naji Ali Saad. In November last year another drone killed one of Rabees relatives, an alleged Al Qaeda member, on the driveway leading up to Rabee's house.

Under U.S. law, drone attacks  can only be used against a person who is an "immediate threat to the United States", and that it is impossible or very difficult to arrest the person instead.

President Obama has said that attacks are being used to target Al Qaeda leaders hiding in remote areas.
We are able to pinpoint strikes on Al Qaeda operatives in a place where the capacities of a military in that country may not be able to get them.

But, Rabee Lahib, the likely target of the attack we investigated, lived in a village just an hour's drive from the capital Sanaa, he was a neighbour to some of the country's top politicians.

Rabbee Lahib was a member of the village council and travelled to the capital Sanaa every other day, passing several military checkpoints on the way.

– If they suspected him of any crime. Why didn’t they seize him and charge him, says a relative of the man. We want the people responsible for this murder charged!

The person responsible for all drone attacks carried out by the US is President Barack Obama. Each attack must be approved either by him or the CIA director. Thus, it is President Obama who is directly responsible for the deaths of the four Yemenis. But when we call for a comment, we are met by silence.

Neither the Pentagon, the White House nor the CIA want to say anything.