WASHINGTON -- Three victims of a drone strike in Pakistan spoke Tuesday at a Congressional briefing to call for an explanation of why a grandmother was killed last year. The briefing, organized by Rep. Alan Grayson (D-Fla.), was the first of its kind.
Faced with more than a dozen television cameras and scores of spectators, Rafiq ur-Rehman and his two children recounted the day last year that ur-Rehman's mother was killed, in a drone strike that spurred Amnesty International to call for a U.S. investigation.
"Nobody has ever told me why my mother was targeted that day," ur-Rehman said. "Only one person was killed that day: Mamana Bibi, a grandmother, a midwife who was preparing to celebrate the Islamic holiday of Eid. Not a militant. My mother."
The administration has refused to comment on the circumstances of ur-Rehman's mother's death. But Tuesday's briefing may mark a significant first step toward unveiling the secrecy that surrounds the U.S. drone program in Pakistan and Yemen. The Central Intelligence Agency has never acknowledged the covert drone program that it runs over Pakistan's skies, and the Obama administration has only just begun to take tentative steps toward explaining more about how, and under what legal authorities, drones are employed.
"I see today as an opportunity for me to listen to the first-hand testimony of people affected by this policy," said Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.). "We really haven't had a full and open debate in the United States Congress about this new weapon of war and how it's used."
Along with Grayson and Schakowsky, three other members of Congress attended the briefing, which was not an official hearing.
"The appropriate committees generally are staffed by people, if I may say this, who are friends of the military industrial complex, not even enemies, or even skeptics of it," Grayson commented.
The committees' resistance aside, there does seem to be some momentum in the administration and in Congress for at the least greater transparency around drone strikes. Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) has proposed creating legislation that would regulate drones' use in the few cases when they are used against American citizens. Joint reports from Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch last week, meanwhile, documented civilian casualties from drones. They called on the U.S. to investigate possible violations of human rights, and to provide compensation for civilian victims like the Rehmans.
"The onus is no longer on these victims to provide evidence of their case. They have done that," said Jennifer Gibson, a lawyer with the legal nonprofit Reprieve who accompanied the Rehmans to the United States. "The onus is now on President Obama and this administration to bring this war out of the shadows."