Splitting hairs in order to determine whether or not President Obama's killer drone policy is legal or not is a useless exercise, and yet the Constitution subcommittee of the Senate Judiciary Committee spent most of its time doing just that, even though the proof of their failure was also sitting at the witness table. Among a panel of witnesses that included former Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. James Cartwright and a number of legal scholars, sat Farea al-Muslimi, a 22-year-old Yemeni who has spent several years in the United States as a beneficiary of a number of State Department scholarships. He spent part of his teenage years living with an American family in California and is a graduate of the American University of Beirut. He considers his experiences with America to be absolutely priceless, because his eyes were opened to a world that he never would have even known existed had he remained in his home village in Yemen, and that is precisely why his testimony was the most powerful of those delivered at yesterday's hearing.
Six days before he appeared at the hearing, Muslimi's village of Wessab, in rural Yemen, about a 9-hour drive from the Yemeni capital of Sana'a, was hit by a U.S. drone strike that killed 5 men, one of whom was alleged to be an operative of Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP).
Muslimi recounted how he suddenly started getting texts and emails from friends and family in Wessab, who were furious at the attack, asking him questions he couldn't answer. "Why was the United States terrifying them with these drones? Why was the United States trying to kill a person with a missile when everyone knows where he is and he could have been easily arrested?" Many knew the man who was targeted, but had no idea he was suspected of being with Al Qaeda. Had they known, they would have kept their distance, or even turned him to the local security forces. What if one of their children had been standing next to him when he was killed? Instead of answers to their questions, Muslimi said, all the people of his village have is "the psychological fear and terror that now occupies their souls."
Muslimi effectively repudiated any argument that Obama's targeted killing campaign is in any way serving the legitimate interests of the United States. Furthermore, in Yemen, it's creating more enemies than can possibly be killed, because every innocent victim who is killed, has relatives and friends that swear to take revenge on America. This rage is actually strengthening AQAP, even though most Yemenis, Muslimi included, hate AQAP's ideology. Unlike Muslimi, all that too many Yemenis know of America is the terror, death, and destruction brought by Obama's drones.
"Instead of first experiencing America through a school or a hospital [both of which are in extremely short supply in rural Yemen], most people in Wessab first experience America through the terror of a drone strike," Muslimi said. "What radicals had previously failed to achieve in my village, one drone strike accomplished in an instant; there is now intense anger and growing hatred of America." Muslimi documented that this has happened all over the country, wherever U.S. drone strikes have occurred, because he has visited many other villages that have been hit by drone strikes as an escort and translator for foreign journalists. The effect of the drone strikes is to feed AQAP's propaganda that America is at war with the Yemeni people. Muslimi went on to characterize the U.S. drone war in Yemen as a war of mistakes, because its effect on the ground is the opposite of what the U.S. says it is trying to accomplish there.
In concluding his testimony, Muslimi listed a number of recommendations, among them, stopping the drone strikes altogether. "In every village where there has been a targeted killing," he concluded, "build a school or a hospital so that the villagers' only experience with America will not be the death and destruction caused by an American missile."
The moral bankruptcy of the U.S. Senate was demonstrated, however, when no one responded to Muslimi's testimony.