By Vienna Maglio and Sidahmed Tfeil
On December 12, 2013 in the Aqabat Za’j district of Yemen, a bride and groom celebrated their nuptials at the home of the bride’s parents. After a feast, the party of about 50 travelers began the 35-kilometer drive to the groom’s village. During the journey, the convoy stopped to wait for a car with a flat tire, when loud noises approached. Four Hellfire missiles hit the fourth vehicle in the procession and sent shrapnel into nearby cars. According to Human Rights Watch, the missiles, launched by a U.S. Military drone, left at least 12 men dead and wounded at least 15 others, including the bride who was hit with shrapnel under her eye.
Days later, representatives from the Alkarama Foundation—a Geneva-based human rights organization, traveled to the scene of the attack, where the shelled vehicles remained on the dusty mountain road. In this video, which the the Human Rights Channel featured last week, a member of the wedding party (speaking at 1:23) points out the remnants of the bride’s wedding carriage. Other clips show the outrage of local communities, who say they live in terror, and have been offered no explanation about the attacks that have killed their friends and relatives.
Human Rights Violations
While the U.S. military argues that unmanned aircraft can target individual terrorist suspects, its drone campaign in rural Yemen has resulted in numerous civilian casualties. According to a recent UN report, five additional drone attacks in Yemen since July 2011 have killed over 50 civilians. Four of the six reported attacks were allegedly carried out by the United States, and two by the U.S. or Yemen.
In May of 2013, President Obama outlined a stricter policy on drone killings, which ostensibly target terrorist suspects. He stated that before any drone attack, the U.S. must have “near-certainty” that no civilians will be harmed. According to a Human Rights Watch report that documented the December 12th attack, the U.S. government “unofficially” told media that the only people killed were militants, and that the attack targeted an Al-Qaeda member who was wounded. The UN, along with Human Rights Watch and many other local and international human rights monitors have called on the U.S. to publicly investigate the attacks.
Because most drone attacks take place without warning and in rural areas, the attacks are rarely caught on camera. However, many citizen journalists have documented their aftermath. This video playlist includes footage of the destruction caused by another drone strike in the vicinity of Rad’a in Yemen on September 2, 2012. An aircraft allegedly under the control of the U.S. army launched precision-guided munitions at a stationary bus. The attack killed 12 civilians, including three children and one pregnant woman.
Vienna holds a M.A. in International Relations from The New School for Public Engagement. You can connect with her on Twitter @MaglioVienna.
Sidahmed Tfeil is a journalist specializing in Western Sahara and North Africa. You can follow him on Twitter @SidahmedTfeil.