A Yemeni man looks at graffiti protesting against US drone strikes in Sana'a, Yemen
Photo by Mohammed Hamoud/Getty Images

A Yemeni Family Was Repeatedly Attacked by U.S. Drones. Now, They're Seeking Justice

Yemenis who say their families and lives have been destroyed by seven erroneously-targeted attacks seek to hold the U.S. accountable for its war on terror, and have filed a petition against the government.
January 26, 2021, 1:00pm

The day was supposed to be joyous. On December 12, 2013, the al Ameri and al Taisy families joined together in Yemen’s al Bayda province to celebrate the marriage of Abdullah Mabkhout al Ameri and his new wife Wardah al Taisy. During the traditional wedding procession from the bride’s home, a United States drone launched four missiles and killed 12 people. Seven members of the al Ameri family and five members of the al Taisy family were killed; six more were injured. 

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“Everyone here was shocked,” Ahmed Mohamed al Shafe’ee al Taisy, whose 25-year-old son was killed in the strike, said later in a witness statement. “Those drones don’t only fly, they kill people.”

Over the next five years, members of the al Ameri and al Taisy families, and their neighbors, were victims of six more attacks. The year 2017 was particularly brutal: they say that 15 members of their families were killed on January 29 after an on the ground raid, two distantly related neighbors died on March 6, one family member was killed on November 23, three died on November 26, and one died on December 22, during drone strikes. Less than a year later, on September 18, 2020, two more family members were killed. Over seven separate attacks by the United States—six drones strikes and one raid—36 members of the al Ameri and al Taisy families were killed. A quarter of them were children between the ages of three months and 14 years old. The families lost loved ones, homes, livestock, and neighbors, as 12 other people were killed by the strikes as well. Though U.S. government authorities have claimed throughout the years that the targets were terrorists, investigators and the families have consistently said that is untrue. While it has been seven years since the first strike, they still haven’t received any answers; instead, they live in fear.

Through seven separate attacks by the United States—six drones strikes and one raid—36 members of the al Ameri and al Taisy families were killed.

Each attack was covered in the press at the time it occurred, but the disparate reports of casualties have failed to capture the catastrophic misfortune borne by the al Ameri and al Taisy families. Their experience as victims of America’s two-decade long war on terror mirrors that of their country, and is a story of unimaginable heartbreak—of repeated attacks without explanation, deaths without accountability, and trauma without recourse. “It’s a life with constant fear,” Mohammed Ali Mabkhout al Ameri, a survivor of four attacks, told VICE World News. “You always feel tense. If you go out in your vehicle, you’re afraid. If you walk out individually, you’re always afraid to leave the village because you think you might be mistaken and targeted.” 

The families, led by Aziz al Ameri, a family patriarch, are filing a petition on January 25 against the U.S. government through the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, an arm of the Organization of American States that observes and investigates human rights conditions throughout the Western Hemisphere. With the assistance of Reprieve, an international human rights organization that has worked with and represented drone strike victims, al Ameri is asking for accountability. “The family is searching for answers and they've been blocked from getting any sort of answer from the U.S. government,” said Jennifer Gibson, a human rights lawyer and project lead on extrajudicial killing at Reprieve. “So they're now going to the Inter-American Commission, hoping to get from them the answers and the relief that they have not been able to get from the U.S. government or from the U.S. courts.” The families are presenting several documents, including a 50-page dossier of evidence, and seeking “precautionary measures”—effectively an injunction against assassination.

A man sits with six children while holding a photograph.

Ahmed Mohammad al Taisy is pictured with his deceased brother's children. His brother Salem was killed during the wedding strike in 2013. (Courtesy of Reprieve)

“The families are trying in every way they can to almost literally raise their hand and say, ‘Hey, wait a minute. You're hitting the wrong people here. Please stop hitting us and let us put forward the evidence that we're not whoever you think we are,’” Gibson said. While the Commission doesn’t have enforcement powers, it carries substantial weight in the international community and could ask the U.S. to actually investigate and publicly acknowledge the consequences of what has otherwise been a nameless and faceless war, and compensate the survivors accordingly.

VICE World News spoke with two members of the families, Mohammed Ali Mabkhout al Ameri and Abdullah Abdurabuh Obad al Taisy, about their experiences and hopes for the petition. Both men lost dozens of family members throughout the attacks, and were personally present for three of the drone strikes and the raid. Over the years, al Taisy lost seven close cousins, and al Ameri lost four close cousins, an uncle, and his sister-in-law. The families say they were targeted without reason, and have still not been contacted by anyone in the United States following the attacks. 

The families, led by Aziz al Ameri, are now filing a petition on January 25 against the U.S. government through the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights.

“What is compelling about this case is the argument it makes about the lack of any other remedy available to these victims,” said Priyanka Motaparthy of Columbia Law School’s Human Rights Institute. “It makes the really stark point that they have been unable to go through U.S. courts; that no mechanism for redress exists even when their family members were killed, even when they’ve suffered very serious injuries, even when their homes, or places of work, or vehicles were destroyed. There is no recourse for them.”

A man holds a picture.

Mohamed Ali Abdallah al Ameri holds a photograph of his 12-year-old son who was killed in a U.S. strike. Al Ameri also suffered injuries during the wedding strike in 2013. (Photo by Abigail Hauslohner/The Washington Post via Getty Images)

While the opacity of the U.S. war in Yemen makes it difficult to say why, definitively, these people were killed, evidence suggests that it was the result of a technocratic military approach based in cultural incomprehension—one that views entire extended families or tribes as suspect, if not criminal; guilt-by-association as a permissible form of evidence; and collective punishment as a legitimate remedy. 

“We’re hoping because there is a new administration in the White House they will look into things differently,” said al Taisy. “We want them to know that we are innocent. We want them to consider fair reparations for our families and children. All that we ask is a transparent investigation.” 

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In a letter to congressional leaders last year, President Donald Trump stated that a “small number of United States military personnel are deployed to Yemen to conduct operations against al-Qa'ida in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) and ISIS” and “work closely with the Republic of Yemen Government (ROYG) and regional partner forces to degrade the terrorist threat posed by those groups.” Neither of these militant groups even existed when the U.S. began waging its war on terror there, and the conflict seems no closer to victory nearly 20 years on.

Yemen has played an outsized role in America’s two decade-long campaign of drone strikes. The first publicly-announced U.S. drone attack took place in November 2002, when then-CIA director George Tenet  “gave a nod” while watching a live video feed at CIA headquarters in Langley, Virginia, causing an MQ-1 Predator drone to fire a missile at a car carrying Qaed Salim Sinan al-Harethi, a senior al Qaeda leader and suspected mastermind of the October 2000 attack on the USS Cole in Yemen’s Aden port that resulted in the death of 17 sailors. The missile killed everyone in the vehicle, including Kamal Derwish, an American citizen. This remained the only drone strike in Yemen until Barack Obama took office in 2009 and the U.S. war in Yemen intensified. 

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The U.S. drone war is predicated on two specific types of air strikes: those where the targets are identified, high-value “terrorists” who find themselves on a "kill list"—sometimes called “personality strikes"—and more common cases where unknown individuals are targeted based on “suspicious” patterns of behavior detected through signal intercepts, human sources and surveillance—better known as “signature strikes.” U.S. Special Operations forces also carry out raids, like the unilateral missions that led to the killings of Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi by Army Delta Force commandos and al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden by Navy SEALs, as well as missions conducted alongside local partner forces to capture or kill militants. “In every strike and raid, we take careful measures to minimize civilian harm and take responsibility for our actions,” a spokesperson for Central Command (CENTCOM) told VICE World News. “When our military operations result in reports of civilian harm, we assess the credibility of such reports to help us identify ways to improve our operations and respond as appropriate.”

By 2012, there was a drone strike reported in Yemen every six days. U.S. air attacks in Yemen would crest at 59 the next year and by the end of its tenure, the Obama administration had carried out 185 strikes, killing an estimated 88 to 101 civilians, according to New America, a Washington D.C.-based think tank. 

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A study of all types of U.S. military operations in Yemen from 2009 to 2014, including manned air strikes and ground raids, found that more than 80 percent of the total number of civilian deaths were caused by drones. A 2014 study of drone strike casualties in Pakistan and Yemen by Reprieve also found that as many as 1,147 people may have been killed during attempts to assassinate just 41 men, and that 18 men in Yemen were reported killed or were targeted multiple times. Strikes aimed at these men ended up killing 273 others, accounting for almost half of all confirmed civilian casualties and 100 percent of all recorded child deaths during counterterrorism operations in Yemen.

A 2014 study of drone strike casualties in Pakistan and Yemen by Reprieve also found that as many as 1,147 people may have been killed during attempts to assassinate just 41 men.

While the Obama years saw a marked escalation of the war in Yemen, attacks spiked in 2017 under the Trump administration, with 133 declared U.S. airstrikes and raids. Over four years, the number of declared attacks during the Trump administration—181—nearly equaled the total of eight years under President Obama. This may also be a drastic undercount, since CENTCOM publicly declares only some of its actions and CIA strikes are officially neither confirmed nor denied. The UK-based monitoring group Airwars, however, counts another 146 alleged strikes during the Trump years. 

A house reduced to rubble

One of the destroyed houses from the 2017 raid. (Courtesy of Reprieve)

Attacks carried out by the Trump administration resulted in 42 civilian casualty incidents and an estimated 86 to 154 civilian deaths, according to Airwars. At least 63 likely civilian deaths resulted from 20 attacks that Central Command has itself publicly declared. The Pentagon has conceded a far lower number, all from a single action—the second attack on the al Ameri and al Taisy families, the disastrous “Yakla raid” on January 29, 2017. “USCENTCOM assesses between 4-12 non-combatant casualties died in a Jan. 28, 2017, intense firefight between U.S. forces and AQAP militants in Yemen,” a Central Command spokesperson told VICE World News in an email. When asked how many civilians had been killed or injured in U.S. attacks since 2009, the command said it would be unable to complete the necessary research to produce a number in time for publication.

The U.S. war in Yemen hasn’t occurred in a vacuum. In 2015, Houthi rebels routed a Yemeni government backed by neighboring Saudi Arabia. The Saudis, who view the Houthis as proxies of their regional rival Iran, responded with a military campaign of air strikes marked, according to a U.N. panel of experts, by “a consistent pattern of harm to civilians” as well as a “crippling blockade, indiscriminate artillery attacks, [and] the impeding of humanitarian relief supplies and access to food and health care.” The conflict, which quickly became a quagmire for the Saudis, has killed more than 18,400 civilians and sparked the world’s largest humanitarian crisis. “The data shows that 16 million people will go hungry this year, already about 50,000 are essentially starving to death in what’s essentially a small famine,” said U.N. Special Envoy Martin Griffiths earlier this month. “Another five million are just one step behind them.”

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An eleventh-hour decision by the Trump administration to label the Houthis a terrorist group threatens to halt aid and worsen the famine, but the move is now under review by the Biden administration. Similarly, U.S. support for the Saudi war is on life support. While the Trump administration suppressed findings about the legal risks of America’s role in the conflict and U.S. culpability for civilian deaths as it sold weapons to the Saudis and their allies, and the U.S. continues to express support for the Kingdom, President Biden pledged he would “end our support for the Saudi-led war in Yemen.” 

When asked about President Biden’s plans in regard to the U.S. drone war in Yemen and whether the new administration would provide greater transparency than the Trump White House, however, National Security Council spokesperson Emily Horne directed VICE World News to a January 3 interview between CNN’s Fareed Zakaria and National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan. In the interview, Sullivan does not mention Yemen even once. 

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The attacks on the al Ameri and al Taisy families, corroborated by local and international investigations, photographs, video footage, and eyewitness testimony, all have one thing in common: There is no clear reason why the families were targeted. In their witness statement, Reprieve wrote, “We have found no evidence, either in our communications with the families or through our investigations and research, to suggest that those killed were directly participating in hostilities when they were attacked, nor that they had assumed a continuous combat function within an armed group.”

Those killed were farmers, shepherds, construction workers, and even members of the Yemeni army—not exactly the hardened AQAP operatives the U.S. government claimed to be targeting. Rear Admiral John Kirby, then the Pentagon’s press secretary, said the Yemeni government stated the targets during the 2013 wedding strike were “dangerous senior al-Qaeda militants,” though the apparent target, Shawqi Ali Ahmad al-Badani, an AQAP leader, was, according to the family, never at, nor invited, to the wedding. General Joseph Votel, then commander of Joint Special Operations Command and later the four-star chief of Special Operations Command, ordered an independent investigation by an Air Force general, and the White House requested another by the National Counterterrorism Center. (Votel declined to speak to VICE World News on the subject.) 

Those killed were farmers, shepherds, construction workers, and even members of the Yemeni army—not exactly the hardened AQAP operatives the U.S. government claimed to be targeting.

A Yemeni national security official told CNN at the time that “none of the killed was a wanted suspect by the Yemeni government.” A Human Rights Watch investigation of the attack also “found that the convoy was indeed a wedding procession,” and “some, if not all those killed and wounded were civilians.” According to the report, the families were then compensated for their loss. In 2014, the Washington Post reported that the Yemeni government paid more than $1 million in compensation and that “U.S. officials have said that both the CIA and the National Counterterrorism Center, which was directed by the White House to review the operation, concluded that civilians were probably injured or killed.” 

“Provincial authorities then unofficially acknowledged civilian casualties by providing money and assault rifles—a traditional gesture of apology—to the families of the dead and wounded,” stated the Human Rights Watch report. There were also other unusual aspects of the case that made AQAP affiliation even more unlikely; experts told Human Rights Watch that if the family members killed had indeed been members of AQAP, the local government wouldn’t have apologized (the governor of the province and other Yemeni politician called the strike a “mistake”), the militants would have been named by both the U.S. and Yemeni governments, and AQAP would have likely described the militants supposedly killed as “martyrs.” 

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Mohammed Ali Mabkhout al Ameri’s uncle was Abdullah Mabkhout al Ameri, the groom at the wedding strike in 2013. “He was a kind man,” al Ameri told VICE World News. On the day of his wedding, he was, al Ameri said, “full of joy and happiness.” He had never seen his uncle, a farmer who grew lemons, oranges, corn, and qat, so happy before. After the wedding strike, al Ameri visited him in the hospital where he found his uncle crying and and in a state of disbelief. Four years later, he was killed in the raid alongside his two sons, both under the age of 10.

A burnt out car from the wedding strike

One of the cars hit during the 2013 wedding strike. (Courtesy of Reprieve)

Throughout the subsequent attacks on the al Ameri and al Taisy families, the U.S. government continued to both deny accountability and cast aspersions on the victims. After the raid in 2017 that resulted in the death of 15 al Ameri and al Taisy family members, including six children, in addition to nine other members of the community, then-White House press secretary Sean Spicer called the Yakla raid “a very, very well thought out and executed effort.” President Trump later quoted then-Defense Secretary James Mattis as saying it had “generated large amounts of vital intelligence that will lead to many more victories in the future against our enemies.” But reports quickly emerged that the SEAL raid resulted in a mass killing of civilians. A U.S. military investigation found, Votel told the Senate Armed Services Committee in 2017, “somewhere between four and 12 [civilian] casualties that we—I accept responsibility for.” Reprieve counted 26 people total killed in the operation, including 10 children—the youngest a three-month-old girl.  

Similarly, the U.S. military told the Bureau of Investigative Journalism that the November 23, 2017 air strike killed two "terrorists,” though Reprieve reported that two civilians, one of them a 14-year-old boy, died in the attack. With regards to the attack four days later, CENTCOM reportedly told the Bureau of Investigative Journalism that the November 26, 2017 strike killed three members of the Islamic State while Yemeni officials called them three alleged al-Qaeda fighters; Reprieve reported that the three killed were children, ages 10 to 12. Reprieve further reported that the December 22, 2017 strike killed a 40-year-old shopkeeper, and CENTCOM never acknowledged the attack, indicating it may have been conducted by the CIA. CENTCOM would only confirm to the Bureau of Investigative Journalism that the U.S. conducted two air strikes in September 2018. For the September 18, 2018 attack, Reprieve reported that the two men killed were members of the Yemeni military, a 50-year-old colonel and a 30-year-old soldier—also not members of al Qaeda.   

“Anyone who is saying they have targeted terrorists [after the drone strikes against our family] is either lying or doesn’t know us.”

“None of the people in our family or our tribe has been wanted by the security service. We don’t know any members of AQAP,” said al Ameri. Al Taisy said that given that some of their family members, including themselves, are now part of the Yemeni military,  “anyone who is saying they have targeted terrorists [with the drone strikes against our family] is either lying or doesn’t know us.” 

Daniel Mahanty, who ran the State Department’s Office of Security and Human Rights during the Obama administration and now head of the U.S. program at the Center for Civilians in Conflict (CIVIC) sees these attacks on the al Ameri and al Taisy families as emblematic of America’s forever wars. “The cases represented in the dossier are representative of so many of the issues that remain unresolved in the way the US executes its ‘war on terror’ and the way it deals with reports of civilian casualties, he told VICE World News. “The Biden administration should review these and other cases, and moreover, should take a close look at them for ways it can improve every aspect of the process.”  

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The cases also highlight a pervasive lack of U.S. accountability in the face of the killing of innocent children and their families when it comes to U.S. quasi-wars in Africa and the Middle East. “The lethal killing program has been one of the least transparent and least accountable programs that the U.S. government has carried out,” said Motaparthy of Columbia Law School. “The Department of Defense’s own reporting on ex gratia payments shows there have been zero payments made in Yemen. As far as we know, they haven’t directly paid anyone compensations, made amends, offered redress.”

“Sometimes it feels like a black hole, as no one, and nothing, is moving on the other side,” Baraa Shiban, a Middle East and North Africa case worker for Reprieve, told VICE World News about investigating these drone strikes while families search for justice. Shiban has visited the al Ameri and al Taisy families a dozen times over the past seven years, painstakingly interviewing surviving family members about their experiences during and after each attack. “It was devastating,” he said. Following the 2017 raid, he added, was when it seemed “this whole family is being targeted. It’s not just one, not two … I find it hard to imagine how anyone with a basic sense would think that [these families] were a threat to the United States.”

“I think the government can and should go a lot further in discussing specific strikes, laying out its case for what it believes the results were, refuting allegations it disagrees with, and owning mistakes when it determines they have been made,” Luke Hartig, who served as a Senior Director for Counterterrorism at the National Security Council in the Obama White House, told VICE World News. “Certainly there are restrictions when it comes to sharing details about sensitive operations and post-strike intelligence assessments, but engaging in this kind of dialogue to the best of its ability is essential to ensuring accountability and building greater confidence in U.S. counterterrorism efforts.”

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If anything, Shiban thinks these attacks are ultimately undermining the U.S. mission in Yemen on its own terms. “There are a lot of communities that we’re leaving behind that actually could potentially be your allies one day,” he said. “We’re treating broad communities with just one blanket. It’s time to reconsider. I’m not over optimistic with the Biden administration, but I hope people will start seeing things differently when it comes to a country like Yemen.”

“The strikes have turned our lives into a tragedy and hell,” Mes’ad al Taisy, a cousin of those killed in the 2017 attacks, told a Reprieve investigator in 2019. 

Beyond the two families, America’s war in Yemen has been centered around the devastation of certain extended families. In September 2011, a CIA attack killed Anwar al Awlaki a Yemeni-American cleric and leading al Qaeda recruiter. Two weeks later, his 16-year-old son, a U.S. citizen named Abdulrahman Awlaki, was killed along with his two cousins in a Joint Special Operations Command, or JSOC, drone strike. In 2017, Anwar al Awlaki’s 8-year-old daughter, Nawar al Awlaki, was killed in the Yakla raid. 

In October 2011, Saleh Tuaiman and his 17-year-old son Jalal were killed in a drone strike after they reportedly drove into the desert to find some missing camels. In 2015, another of Saleh Tuaiman’s sons, 13-year-old Mohammed Tuaiman was also killed in a drone strike. The Dhahab family in al Bayda has also been repeatedly targeted by U.S. strikes despite publicly breaking from an alliance with AQAP. The al Dhahabs are closely connected, through inter-marriage, to members of the al Ameri family.

“A military directive to aggressively pursue the Qayfa clans is the equivalent of saying ‘We're going after all the families in, say, Brooklyn.’”

In 2017, a senior military intelligence official told NBC News that “new directives” to aggressively pursue the Dhahab and Qayfa clans had been issued. “A military directive to aggressively pursue the Qayfa clans is the equivalent of saying ‘We're going after all the families in, say, Brooklyn,’” explained journalist Iona Craig, who has reported extensively from Yemen, including the immediate aftermath of the Yakla raid.  Craig shared with VICE World News the results of demographic modeling done on her behalf by an expert in Yemeni tribal mapping. “Such a declaration of collective punishment of the al Dhahabs and their Qayfa tribe marks more than 21,000 military aged males aged between 16 and 44, according to a 2004 estimate of Qayfa tribe numbers,” she explained, noting that this figure is five times greater than the 2016 State Department estimate of the number of AQAP members. “It's effectively green-lighting going after anyone and everyone living in or from a particular area,” said Craig. The assumption, she added, that “every person from the Qayfa area is a legitimate target is not just extraordinary and terrifying but also a violation of IHL [International Humanitarian Law].”

“There appears to be a pattern of targeting families or broader familial networks because of the actions of one or two family members,” said Gibson, noting that a guilt-by-association policy of collective punishment is illegal under international law. “This is also why accountability, transparent post-strike investigations, and clear targeting criteria are really important. If there is a policy of doing this, the U.S. public deserves to know that our policy violates international law. And if there's not a policy and this is an accident because of our signals intelligence and we're letting algorithms pick targets and then carrying out signature strikes, we absolutely should be doing post-strike investigations so that we fix the problem.”

Children stand with an older woman.

These children lost their mother, Fatim Saleh Mohsen al Ameri, during the 2017 raid. (Courtesy of Reprieve)

In the meantime, the trauma experienced by the two families and their greater communities remains incalculable. Dozens of family members experienced injuries after the raid and strikes, from shrapnel wounds to broken bones and the loss of limbs. Beyond the physical effects, the Reprieve witness statement states, “the psychological impacts of the attacks on the community cannot be underestimated: the trauma of losing loved ones, witnessing the violence of strikes, and the constant fear of further attacks – the ongoing risk to one’s own life and the lives of one’s family. The fear of strikes has led people to avoid gatherings which pulls at the social fabric that knits the community together.”

Months after the wedding strike, Abdullah Mabkhout al Ameri, the now-deceased groom at the 2013 wedding, told Reprieve, “people in the village are afraid to gather. Everybody feels that they are a target. We thought these drones only kill wanted people, never innocent people.”

“The lives of people in the village have become painful, full of fear and terror and anxiety.”

Years later, the psychological toll, impact, family members say, has continued. “The lives of people in the village have become painful, full of fear and terror and anxiety, said Amer al Ameri in an interview with a Reprieve investigator in 2019. “Our lives have changed drastically for the worse.”

Though the most recent strike occurred in 2018, Reprieve believes that the families are still at risk. In March 2020, leaflets were dropped over the district of Yakla, where the al Ameri and al Taisy families live, offering a reward in return for information about senior AQAP leaders. The leaflets, according to Reprieve, were reportedly dropped by U.S. helicopters, and Aziz al Ameri told Reprieve that he saw a drone hovering above his hometown in June. In their witness statement, Reprieve wrote, “The families remain at serious and urgent risk of irreparable harm of death or injury.” 

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Even so, this is not the first time that Yemeni families of those killed in drone strikes have pursued legal action against the United States government, though these pursuits have ultimately been unsuccessful. In 2015, three years after two Yemeni civilians were reportedly killed during a U.S. drone strike, their families filed a wrongful death suit against the U.S. government. In 2017, a U.S. federal court tossed out the lawsuit, and the judge said that it was not their place to question military judgement. 

While it remains to be seen what could come of the family’s petition with the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, Gibson believes that the very filing of their grievances sets an important precedent. Still, while Reprieve has requested that the petition be expedited, the process into uncharted legal territory could take up to 10 years and become a generational struggle. “A decision from the Inter-American Commission would at a minimum provide something the families have never had—recognition of the harm that has been done to them,” Gibson said. “They have lost dozens of loved ones, many of them children. A decision in their favor would finally bring some accountability and would force the U.S. to reckon with 10 years of running a shadow killing program that has led to the deaths of hundreds of innocents, including those from the al Ameri and al Taisy families.” 

Over the years, as Shiban watched the family dwindle under mounting U.S. attacks, he remembered cherished moments from his many visits: Family members’ love of roast lamb, the children racing up hills where they knew they could outrun city-dwellers, and their unyielding generosity. Regardless of what they had, Shiban said, they would “share with whoever they are hosting.” The leaders of the families, he added, never seemed to have a “feeling of anger and a sense of a revenge” about the attacks. Instead, they tried to work within the system, attempting to talk to the right people and seeking mediation. 

One of their favorite activities, Shiban remembered, was when night came. The families would leave their village and sit on a nearby hilltop, competing with one another in a contest to see the farthest. The sky was clear, and in their village there was no electricity, no bright lights disturbing the peace. So they sat, everyone together, and peered into the darkness, trying to make out the next town, and the one after that. 

“Even the children are afraid to go out and play.”

Those days are over now. After the Houthis attacked their village, it became dangerous to visit their special hilltop. That conflict, coupled with a fear of drone strikes, made many of the pleasures the families once enjoyed impossible as trauma and displacement have absorbed their attention. 

“Everyone in the village is affected,” said al Taisy. “They usually can’t sleep properly because of the fear. They can’t even eat properly. Even the children are afraid to go out and play. Some of them are mentally sick right now, because of this constant feeling of fear.”

Still, they hope the petition to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights will bring justice. Al Ameri and al Taisy say they hope for a transparent investigation, accountability for faulty intelligence that caused the strikes, and reparations for the fractured families and orphaned children. 

“I want to pressure the Biden administration to stop all future drone strikes on our area,” added al Ameri, who, with al Taisy, said their families brought the case forward because of the new president. “We want more voices in America to stand in solidarity with us and ask questions of their government. We are people just like them.”

Follow Leah Feiger and Nick Turse on Twitter.