back to top

Pakistani Family Tells Congress Members About The Day A Drone Killed Their Grandmother

Rafiq ur Rehman brought his two children, who were also injured in the 2012 strike, to Capitol Hill to ask for answers.

Posted on

Earlier this week, the Rehman family's claims were featured prominently in a new Amnesty International report, which has been criticized for its accuracy. (Amnesty International had no involvement in the Tuesday briefing; the family has been working with Reprieve, a British human rights group, to tell its story and travel to DC.)

On Oct. 24, 2012, a CIA drone killed my 67-year-old mother and injured my children and those of my brothers. Nobody has ever told me why my mother was targeted that day. Some media outlets reported that the attack was on a car, but there's no road alongside my mother's house. Others reported the the attack was on a house, but the missiles hit a nearby field, not a house. All of them reported that 3, 4, 5 militants were killed.But only one person was killed that day: Mammana Bibi, a grandmother, a midwife, who was prepared to celebrate the Islamic holiday of Eid. Non-militant, but my mother.In Urdu, we have a saying. Literally translated, it means: The string that holds the pearls together. That is what my mother was. She was the string that held our family together. Since her death, the string has been broken, and life has not been the same. We feel alone and we feel lost.Four of my children were injured that day and four of my brother's children. We have had to borrow money and sell land to pay for the children's medical treatment. There has been no compensation to help with these bills. The Pakistani government accepted my claim and confirmed the details. But it says it is not responsible; the U.S. is ...Congressman Grayson, as a teacher, my job is to educate. But how do I teach something like this? How do I explain what I myself do not understand? How can I in good faith reassure the children that the drone will not come back and kill them, too, if I do not understand why it killed my mother and injured my children?
My grandmother was nobody's enemy. She was kind and caring. She used to help the mothers in my village deliver their babies. In the evening, she would tell all the children to gather around, and she would tell us stories. Stories of our life, of our family, of our community. She had so many stories that I can't pick a favorite. I miss all of them. My grandmother and I used to share a love of bright blue skies. We have many of them in ... the village where i live. The sky was particularly blue ... on Oct. 24, 2012. I was excited.The next day was the start of Eid. I know many Americans do not know what Eid is. I've been told it was like Christmas. Since I do not know what Christmas is like, I cannot say. I can only tell you that it is a magical time, filled with joy. It is a holiday every child including myself gets excited about. Just before the drone strike, my grandmother promised me that as soon as we finished our chores, we could start celebrating. The night before, we had helped her make sweets. I couldn't wait to try them. As I helped my grandmother in the field, I could see and hear the drone hovering over our heads. But I didn't worry. Why would I worry? Neither my grandmother nor I were militants. When the drone fired the first time, the whole ground shook, and black smoke rose up. We ran, but several minutes later, the drone fired again. People from the village came to our aid and took us to hospital. We spent the night in great agony at the hospital, and the next morning I was operated on. That is how we spent our Eid. Unfortunately my initial operation was unsuccessful and a few days later, I was taken to Islamabad for treatment. The doctor examined my injured leg and said that drone shrapnel was stuck in a very bad place. It could only be removed with a laser operation, which was very expensive. We did not have enough money for our operation, so I had to return home with the shrapnel still in my leg. When we returned home, my father spent months borrowing money from relatives and neighbors. It took him several months but he was finally able to secure enough money for me to have the surgery. Congressman Grayson, I no longer love blue skies. In fact, I now prefer gray skies. The drones do not fly when the skies are gray. And for a short period of time, the mental tension and fear eases. When the sky brightens, though, the drones return, and so does the fear. I know Americans think drones are the answer, but I wish they could understand how I and other children in my community see drones. We used to play outside all the time. We love to play all sorts of games in my village — cricket, football, volleyball. But now people are afraid to even leave their houses, much less travel great distances, so we don't play very often. There are few schools in my community, but now many children have stopped going to the few that exist. This is a big problem in my community, as what everybody really wants and needs is education. But education isn't possible as long as the drones circle overhead.
It was the day before Eid, and my grandmother had asked me to come help her outside as we were collecting okra, the vegetables, and then I saw from the sky, a drone, and I heard the dum-dum noise. Everything was dark and I couldn't see anything, but I heard a scream. I don't know if it was my grandmother, but I couldn't see her. I was very scared and all I could think of doing was just: run. I kept running, but I felt something in my hand, and I looked to my hand — there was blood. I tried to bandage my hand but the blood kept coming. The blood wouldn't stop.

Watch the full briefing here:

View this video on YouTube

Note: This post has been updated to include criticisms of Amnesty International's telling of the Rehman family story. (10/29/13)

Jessica Testa is a national reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in New York.

Contact Jessica Testa at

Got a confidential tip? Submit it here.