One Pakistani man, a survivor of President Barack Obama’s first ever drone strike, has come forward to speak about the terrifying events that transpired after the brutal attack.
In a translated interview with The Guardian, facilitated by the human rights group Reprieve, Faheem Qureshi recalls a terrifying event that claimed the lives of many civilians, including three of his family members.
After grocery shopping with his mother and hosting many of his closest family members, “he heard a sound like a plane taking off.”
“About two seconds later, the missile punched a hole through the lounge. Qureshi remembers feeling like his body was on fire. He ran outside, wanting to throw water on his face, but his priority was escape. The boy could not see.”
The drone strike occurred on January 23, 2009, a mere three days after Obama took office. The hidden civilian casualties of this attack left a 13-year-old boy bouncing from hospital to hospital for 40 days.
“Shrapnel had punctured his stomach,” The Guardian reports. “Lacerations covered much of his upper body. Doctors operated on the entire left side of his body, which had sustained burns, and used laser surgery to repair his right eye. They could not save his left.”
While recovering from the attack, blinded and terrified, Qureshi recalls his thoughts that were running wild in his head: “What did I do for which I was punished so badly? What did my family do? Why did it happen to me?”
Two of his uncles died in the attack, as did his 21-year-old cousin; 14 of Qureshi’s cousins were left fatherless.
To make matters worse, this drone strike “did not hit the Taliban target Obama and the Central Intelligence Agency sought.”
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While Obama is revered as a peacemaker by many Americans, he is known as a tyrant in the Muslim world. Qureshi explains to The Guardian that all he knows about Obama “is what he has done to me and the people in Waziristan, and that is an act of tyranny. If there is a list of tyrants in the world, to me, Obama will be put on that list by his drone program.”
Qureshi, now about 21 years old, goes on to say that he does want “acknowledgement, [an] apology, and compensation from the U.S.”
“It’s not about me,” he said. “It’s about every civilian who has been killed in Waziristan.”
“The US government takes seriously all credible reports of non-combatant deaths and injuries,” Ned Price, a National Security Council spokesman, told The Guardian. “In those rare instances in which it appears non-combatants may have been killed or injured, after-action reviews have been conducted to determine why, and to ensure that we are taking the most effective steps to minimize such risk to non-combatants in the future.
“Although we will not comment on specific cases, were non-combatants killed or injured in a U.S. strike, condolence or other ex gratia payments, such as solatia, may be available for those injured and the families of those killed.”
For Qureshi, that simply isn’t enough. Reports indicate that between 66 and 78 children have been killed in drone strikes, and many more families have been torn apart by drone strikes that later were deemed an “accident.”
“There are so many people like me in Waziristan that I know of who were targeted and killed who had nothing to do with militancy or the Taliban,” Qureshi said. "So many women who have been killed, children who have been killed, but there is still no answer to this. Forget about the answers, there is not even acknowledgement that we were killed.”
“I do not say drones have only killed civilians,” he continued. “They would have or might have killed some militants. But overall, they have killed mostly civilians who have nothing to do with what America is trying to do in Pakistan or Afghanistan or anywhere else in the world.”
To Qureshi, it’s no surprise that the U.S. is hated in the Muslim world: Obama and this administration are judged by what they have done to civilians like Qureshi.
“What we know of the U.S. is this is what they do to people like me. They uproot us, they kill us, they target us, without any reason. They turn our lives upside down. Of course the US is hated in that part of the world, and it’s hated more because of what they’ve done to people like me,” Qureshi said.
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