U.S. Drone Strike Kills 16 Year-Old American Citizen
The U.S. drone war in Yemen has taken out another victim:
A wave of CIA drone strikes targeting al-Qaeda figures in Yemen is stoking widespread anger there that U.S. policy is cruel and misguided, prioritizing counterterrorism over a genuine solution to the country’s raging political crisis.
Politics has never been a concern to Sam al-Homiganyi and his fellow teenagers. This month, though, they were shocked by the sudden death of a friend and are struggling to understand why.
Fighting back tears, his gaze fixed downward, al-Homiganyi, a lean-looking 15-year-old from the outskirts of Sana’a, told TIME, “He was my best friend, we played football together everyday.” Another of his friends spoke up, gesturing to the gloomy group of jeans-clad boys around him: “He was the same as us. He liked swimming, playing computer games, watching movies … you know, normal stuff.”
The dead friend was Abdulrahman al-Awlaki, a 16-year-old born in Denver, the third American killed in as many weeks by suspected CIA drone strikes in Yemen. His father, the radical cleric Anwar al-Awlaki, also an American citizen, was killed earlier this month, along with alleged al-Qaeda propagandist Samir Khan, who was from New York. When Abdulrahman’s death was first reported in the Western press, his age was given as 21 by local Yemeni officials. Afterward, however, the Awlaki family put out a copy of Abdulrahman’s birth certificate.
According to his relatives, Abdulrahman left the family home in the Sana’a area on Sept. 15 in search of his fugitive father who was hiding out with his tribe, the Awalak, in the remote, rugged southern province of Shabwa. Days after the teenager began his quest, however, his father was killed in a U.S. drone strike. Then, just two weeks later, the Yemeni government claimed another air strike killed a senior al-Qaeda militant. Abdulrahman, his teenage cousin and six others died in the attack as well. A U.S. official said the young man “was in the wrong place at the wrong time,” and that the U.S. was trying to kill a legitimate terrorist — al-Qaeda leader Ibrahim al-Banna, who also died — in the strike that apparently killed the American teenager.
Abdulrahman’s distraught grandfather is not buying the explanation. Nasser al-Awlaki, who received a university degree in the U.S., had for years sought an injunction in American courts to prevent the Obama Administration from targeting and killing his son, Anwar. He told TIME, “I really feel disappointed that this crime is going to be forgotten. I think the American people ought to know what really happened and how the power of their government is being abused by this Administration. Americans should start asking why a boy was targeted for killing.” He continued, “In addition to my grandson’s killing, the missile killed my brother’s grandson, who was a 17-year-old kid, who was not an American citizen but is a human being, killed in cold blood. I cannot comprehend how my teenage grandson was killed by a Hellfire missile, how nothing was left of him except small pieces of flesh. Why? Is America safer now that a boy was killed?” As for Abdulrahman’s father, Nasser says that the U.S. “killed my son Anwar without a trial for any crime he committed … They killed him just for his freedom of speech.” He levels the charges directly at the U.S. President. “I urge the American people to bring the killers to justice. I urge them to expose the hypocrisy of the 2009 Nobel Prize laureate. To some, he may be that. To me and my family, he is nothing more than a child killer.”
I believe the phrase they use is “collateral damage.” This is one of the problems with the new world of remotely controlled warfare. If this had been a raid by a SEAL team, and they had seen that there were children around the target, does one seriously believe that they would’ve opened untargeted fire without regard to the possibility of taking out innocent life? I’d certainly hope not. One also has to wonder what kind of reputation this creates for the United States in the minds of the people of the Arab world. Doesn’t it tend to reinforce the words of the radicals who want us to be viewed as the enemy? Certainly seems like it does to me.