Calls are growing for the Pentagon to acknowledge that a U.S. drone strike on March 29, 2018, in Yemen mistakenly struck civilians. Adel Al Manthari was the only survivor of the drone strike, which killed his four cousins as they were driving a car across the village of Al Uqla. The Pentagon refuses to admit the men were civilians and it made a mistake. Now supporters are demanding the U.S. pay for the devastating injuries Al Manthari sustained and fund the surgery he urgently needs. “He’s effectively fighting for his quality of life and his dignity and to survive,” says Aisha Dennis, project manager on extrajudicial executions for the rights group Reprieve. “It’s a scandal that the Pentagon can completely dodge responsibility,” says Kathy Kelly, peace activist and a coordinator of the Ban Killer Drones campaign, which is fundraising for Al Manthari’s medical care.
AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman, with Juan González.
It was March 29th, 2018, when a U.S. drone strike in Yemen hit the car of Adel Al Manthari and his four cousins. They were driving the car. They went to serve as witnesses for a land deal. A short video recording of the aftermath shows the car they were riding in engulfed in flames. Adel Al Manthari was the only survivor. He suffered severe burns.
In a minute, we’ll speak with his supporters, who say the Pentagon should pay for the surgery he needs to keep his legs, but so far the Pentagon has refused to acknowledge Adel Al Manthari and his cousins were civilians and that the drone strike was a mistake. In a statement recorded for Democracy Now!, Manthari speaks from his hospital bed describing his struggle.
ADEL AL MANTHARI: [translated] It affected me greatly. My children are without their schools. My life is scattered. My children stay with me and cannot go out because of my disability. Four years, and I haven’t moved. I cannot do anything without my children, and I do not move except with my children’s help. I can only go to the bathroom with my children. I can only wash with my children. And I can only walk with my children. I deprived them of their youth, and they are just schoolchildren. I deprived them of education. I deprived them of freedom. I deprived them of going out and mixing with people, because they sat with me at home for 24 hours a day. I have a son who finished high school and has hopes that he will finish his university education, but he could not. And I have another son who finished the ninth grade when the strike happened, and did not continue his education because he was attending to me. I have two daughters who were deprived of school. My whole family is shattered. And they tell as that they are fighting terrorism. What kind of terrorism? What is this terrorism they are fighting? Where is it? They should know who they are and who they are bombing, not like this.
AMY GOODMAN: That’s Adel Al Manthari speaking from his hospital bed. His supporters have asked the Pentagon to, quote, “urgently re-open the assessment into civilian casualties in this strike and specifically his status as a civilian injured” so he can be eligible for the funds to get lifesaving treatment. Investigations by the Yemen-based human rights group Mwatana and the Associated Press, as well as the journalism outlet Airwars, and Yemeni tribal leaders have all concluded there’s no evidence Al Manthari’s family was linked to al-Qaeda.
For more, we’re joined by two guests. Kathy Kelly, longtime peace activist, author, who is a founding member of Voices in the Wilderness, as well as co-coordinator of Ban Killer Drones campaign, raising funds for Adel Al Manthari’s medical care to help him recover from the U.S. drone strike, she’s also a member of the World Beyond War. Also with us is Aisha Dennis, project manager on extrajudicial executions for Reprieve, which is supporting this effort and has built close relationships with communities affected by U.S. drone strikes over the past decade.
We welcome you both to Democracy Now! Aisha, let’s begin with you. Tell us more about Adel’s situation, how you know about this drone strike, and what the Pentagon is denying or saying.
AISHA DENNIS: So, Adel first came to our attention shortly after the strike back in 2018, and we’ve followed his case since then. He has, as you said and as you’ve heard, suffered very severe injuries, not just burns, but also a fracture to his hip, severe injuries to his hand and to his legs. He has been put in a situation by the DOD’s lack of response on this issue, where he is effectively fighting for his quality of life and his dignity and to survive.
We filed a complaint with the DOD in response to his worsening condition about a month ago, but it’s important to note that this isn’t the first time that the DOD has been alerted to this strike and the plight of the Manthari family. So, back in 2018, we and The Daily Beast engaged the DOD, and they refused to respond. They said they were going to conduct a civilian casualty assessment, but they didn’t — not to our knowledge, anyway. They certainly didn’t engage with the community that was affected. They didn’t engage with the family themselves. Then, Mwatana, as you mentioned, and also Columbia Law School brought the strike to their attention amongst a set of other strikes that resulted in civilian casualties. Again, they barely responded. After months, they came back saying that they rejected claims that there were civilian casualties, but they didn’t explain why. The case was then brought to their attention again by Senators Warren and Senator Murphy, and again the DOD failed to take this seriously.
Then Adel’s case severely — Adel’s condition severely deteriorated, and we knew that we had to act. We’ve helped to work with Ban Killer Drones and partners in Egypt to secure his care, but we understand from doctors there that he still needs three further operations.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: I’d like to bring Kathy Kelly into the discussion. You’re the co-coordinator of Ban Killer Drones. We’ve been hearing a lot in the war in Ukraine now, a lot of praise for the effectiveness of drone strikes. But could you give us a bigger picture of what the record is of these drone strikes, especially in the Middle East and in the Horn of Africa, in Yemen, where they’ve been used so much over the recent decades?
KATHY KELLY: Well, thank you, Juan. I think that Adel’s testimony helps us understand the permanent trauma and harm caused by drone attacks to thousands and thousands of survivors and their family members, people who are maimed, people who are traumatized. And, you know, there’s a tremendous secrecy around the use of United States weaponized drones, but now we are seeing the proliferation of drone warfare. And it does make it easier on the part of those using weaponized drones to continue, to prolong, to exacerbate warfare.
And the proxy nature of it, that it would seem that there’s no harm done to the people operating the drones, but that’s not true, either, because the moral injury, the personal conscientious harm done to the operators of the drones, is something we must consider. Daniel Hale, when he was standing before a judge, who sentenced him to four years in prison because of his disclosure about the consequences of drone warfare in Afghanistan alone, he said that 90% of the time the people that were killed weren’t even the ones that were supposedly to be targeted. And he said, “I could no longer take what was not mine to take: innocent lives.”
And so, I think Adel’s testimony discloses a story that has been replicated again and again and again. He speaks of the family of Zemari Ahmadi, 10 people, three of them toddlers, seven of them children. In no way could they have been estimated to be terrorists. And the Department of Defense exonerated itself, said that no wrong was done.
AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to go to the comments of the Pentagon. In May, The New York Times won a Pulitzer Prize for their, quote, “courageous and relentless reporting that exposed the vast civilian toll of U.S.-led airstrikes, challenging official accounts of American military engagements in Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan.” Pentagon spokesperson John Kirby responded to the Pulitzer.
JOHN KIRBY: We knew that we had made mistakes. We’re trying to learn from those mistakes. And we knew that we weren’t always as transparent about those mistakes as we should be. But their reporting reinforced those concerns and, in some cases, gave us cause for additional concerns. And it made us ask ourselves some new and difficult questions of our own, even as it forced us to answer their difficult questions.
AMY GOODMAN: So, that’s the Pentagon press spokesperson, John Kirby. Aisha Dennis, if you can respond to this and also how it would specifically apply to Adel Al Manthari?
AISHA DENNIS: I think the first point to make is that when he says that these are mistakes, it seeks to trivialize what we’re talking about, which is the killing and maiming of civilians. A mistake is when you leave your car keys at home or you send an email to the wrong person. We’re talking about systemic failures, repeated strikes against civilians and also the repeated failure and refusal to engage with the evidence.
So, it’s great that the DOD are learning or attempting to learn from past mistakes, and we very much welcome that sentiment, but we also know that Lloyd Austin has said that they will refuse to litigate the past. And what he means by that is that they will refuse to investigate prior strikes. But the problem is: How can the DOD hope to learn from previous strikes when they won’t grapple with the evidence and what has really happened? They’re not talking to communities. They’re not talking to experts. And in Adel’s case, we are very, very happy to engage with them directly, to put them in contact with his doctors, with witnesses on the ground and with the Yemeni authorities, that can testify to the fact that he was a senior civil servant.
AMY GOODMAN: I want to end with the words of Adel Al Manthari himself, speaking from his hospital bed in Egypt.
ADEL AL MANTHARI: [translated] All U.S. administrations are the same. They all lack transparency and do not value human life. Biden’s administration is the same as Trump’s. They all have the same politics and do not respect any citizen in any country. They have drones without pilots that carelessly drop their bombs without knowing if the target is a terrorist group or civilians. What I know, as someone who lives in the area that was bombed, is that most people are innocent and have no links to terrorism.
AMY GOODMAN: That is Adel talking from his hospital bed. Kathy Kelly, final comment on the Pentagon not acknowledging this, not giving money, though money is allocated for civilian deaths, so-called collateral damage? So, how are you raising money for Adel?
KATHY KELLY: Well, if you go to the Ban Killer Drones site, there is a section at which people can get to the GoFundMe campaign that we have, and there is still more money needed to meet the goal for that campaign. It’s a scandal that the Pentagon can completely dodge responsibility. But people’s generosity can help Adel now.
AMY GOODMAN: How much money have you raised?
KATHY KELLY: $18,642.
AMY GOODMAN: How much does he need?
KATHY KELLY: There’s an estimated $25,000. There are still more surgeries, and, of course, he’s going to face a lifetime of striving for physical therapy and resolving trauma.
AMY GOODMAN: Kathy Kelly, longtime peace activist, co-coordinator of Ban Killer Drones campaign, fundraising for Adel Al Manthari’s medical care, and Aisha Dennis, thank you so much for being with us, project manager on extrajudicial executions for Reprieve.
Next up, civil rights groups are challenging a series of racist Supreme Court rulings that have been used for over a century to legally justify discrimination against people in Puerto Rico and other U.S. territories. Stay with us.