An American drone killed my son Mohammed Saleh al-Manthari. One day in March, without warning, it appeared in the sky and killed him.
I have not been told why. He was never charged with nor convicted of a crime. No one has apologized to us or sought to repair the damage caused by my son’s killing. Now, I wonder whether the U.S. government even cares about the harm it is causing in Yemen.
President Trump refused to comply with an order requiring him to report the deaths of my family to Congress. Instead, he said the requirement to publish the numbers of civilians killed in U.S. counterterrorism operations was “under review” and any report wouldn’t be delivered until June 1, at the earliest.
My question to the President is: Will my son be included in your report to Congress? You may not think he matters, but I and others do. And every time you justify his killing, it is like you kill him all over again.
On March 29, my son and several others were driving toward the city of Al Samw’ah, in Al Bayda Governorate in Yemen, to pick up an elder to act as a witness in a land sale in a nearby village. At approximately 2 p.m., a U.S. drone opened fire on their vehicle. Three people were killed, including my son. Two others were injured. One of them later succumbed to his injuries.
The U.S. military claimed responsibility for the attack. It alleged that the strike killed four terrorists. This is untrue.
My son was not a member of Al Qaeda. He was a simple person, a family man. After serving in Yemen’s military, he became a night guard for a local gas station. He was a law-abiding citizen who never thought ill of the United States. In fact, he rarely thought of the U.S. at all.
In killing him, America has robbed three children — 1-year-old Maha, 3-year-old Faiz and 6-year-old Ahmed — of their father. He was the only breadwinner in his family. He used to earn 35,000 Yemeni riyals (about $140) a month.
Who will support them now? Who will provide young Ahmed with an education?
Nor were any of the other passengers in the vehicle members of Al Qaeda. One of them — my brother Salem Mohammed al-Manthari — was the head of the public transport workers’ union in Aden. Another was a migrant worker returning from Saudi Arabia to visit his family.
After the strike, tribal leaders issued a statement condemning it and affirming that the victims were not members of Al Qaeda. They would only do so if they were absolutely certain the dead men had no ties to the terrorist group.
The U.S. military says it will be conducting a review of what happened. We have offered to provide evidence and to speak with anyone who will listen. Will they take us up on our offer? Will they hear me speak about the impact the death of my son and my brother has had on our family? I hope they will — but I am not optimistic. America has not demonstrated to the Yemeni public that it cares when innocent people are killed.
Numbers without names are meaningless to us. The province I live in has suffered enormously at the hands of Americans. Drones have rained missile after missile. Soldiers invaded our villages and homes in the dead of night, killing our children.
But we do not seek retribution. We want justice.
When U.S. drones killed two Western hostages, Giovanni Lo Porto and Warren Weinstein, President Barack Obama publicly apologized for their deaths.
Yet no Yemeni drone victim has ever received an apology. It seems the lives of Yemenis are not worth saying sorry for.
An apology will not bring back our dead. But it will help us achieve closure and restore our dignity. It is the right thing to do. It is what we teach our children to do when they make mistakes. If we do not admit our mistakes, we cannot hope to avoid them in future.
Will Trump acknowledge his mistake when he reports to Congress? I regret to say I don’t expect it. When will he acknowledge the drone strikes are killing not just “bad guys” but many innocents as well? Until he does, the drones will continue killing the wrong people, and with them, any chance we have of rebuilding our lives and our community.