U.S. Missiles Killed My Family. America's Drone Policy Needs a Reset | Opinion

Recently, news reached Yemen that President Joe Biden opened a classified review into U.S. counterterrorism operations. My immediate response was relief: finally, someone was going to look into the harm drone strikes and raids have done. Finally someone was going to see my family members for what they are: innocent people killed by bad intelligence.

My village was the target of former President Donald Trump's first act as president—a nighttime raid he called a "winning mission" that many agreed was a disaster. We awoke to gunfire and ran for our lives.

My sister-in-law, Fatim, was shot in the back with her 2-year-old in her arms. I will never forget the sight of her body the next morning, riddled with bullets, her arms still cradling her son Mohammed.

Mohammed survived, but 10 other children died that night along with 16 adults. Almost all of them were my family. Those who survived fled the village.

Who can blame them? When death is so close at hand, the terror never leaves you. The drones buzz overhead, and in strike after strike, my family has been taken. My cousin Ahmed was a farmer, out riding his motorcycle when the drone struck. Days later, his younger brother, Salman, a 14-year-old child, was killed while tending sheep for his mother while she was in mourning. She was too grief-stricken over Ahmed's death to tend the sheep herself.

Drones don't discriminate between adults and children, or between enemies and allies. My fellow tribesman, Salem, was a colonel in the Yemeni military. On September 18, 2018, he visited me in my house. Hours later a drone killed him and a fellow member of the army—in theory, the USA's partner in the regional conflict tearing Yemen apart.

My family lives in constant fear of the next strike. The review President Biden proposed does nothing to alleviate this. A review aimed only at returning us to Obama administration standards is no help at all. Having served as vice president under former President Barack Obama, Biden must know this.

Yemen
A Yemeni boy walks past a mural depicting a U.S. drone that says, "Why did you kill my family?" on December 13, 2013, in the capital Sanaa. MOHAMMED HUWAIS/AFP via Getty Images

In December 2013, the Obama administration launched hellfire missiles at my uncle's wedding in Bayda province. Weddings in Yemen are not so different from those in the USA: joyous occasions, celebrating the union of two families. The idea that this gathering was a threat to anyone, much less Americans thousands of miles away, is painfully absurd.

I survived, but 12 others didn't. The bride and groom were injured but survived. What should have been my uncle's happiest day was instead filled with carnage. This was my first encounter with America and its deadly drone program.

A review that returns us to the Obama era wouldn't reassure me that the U.S. has learned from its mistakes, or that it understands how its intelligence is poor. Tightening targeting standards and seeking to put the blame on Trump would just show that the Biden administration is unwilling to reckon with the damage caused by this secret assassination program that has killed hundreds of innocent men, women and children.

A month ago, my family filed suit before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, asking it to grant precautionary measures to protect us from further attack. Our request is simple: Publish the targeting guidance and open an independent, impartial and transparent investigation into the strikes and raid that killed my family. It is the only thing that will stop the next strike from killing me or another member of my family.

If President Biden is serious about reviewing the drone program, he can start here. He can recognize that more than a decade after Obama made the drone his weapon of choice, it's time for a fundamental reset, rather than a backward step.

Until then, my family and I will live in fear of the drones in Yemen's sky: dark shadows that swallow up mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters and children.

America is the invisible controller who never answers the questions we ask: Why? And why me?

Mohammed al-Ameri is a Yemeni tribesman seeking protection from U.S. drone strikes in a first-of-its-kind petition to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights.

The views expressed in this article are the writer's own.