Yemen drone strike survivor uses GoFundMe for medical care

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Four years ago, five cousins ​​- all civilians – were driving near the Yemeni village of Al Uqla when a missile ripped through their SUV and tossed the car into the air. Three of them were killed instantly. Another died days later at a local hospital. The only survivor, Adel Al Manthari, could soon become the fifth death of this American drone strike.

Al Manthari’s feet and legs have recently turned black due to restricted blood flow, and this week a doctor told him he was at imminent risk of developing gangrene. Al Manthari needs emergency medical care which he cannot afford. Its future now rests on a GoFundMe campaign.

The fact that the limbs – and possibly the life – of a civilian victim of a drone strike are now dependent on donations to a fundraising website is due to what experts have called a system of inadequate, arbitrary and broken civil casualty investigation and compensation that has failed the victims of American wars for decades.

Despite a Pentagon spokesperson’s recent assertion that the military now takes responsibility for alleged civilian casualties, the Department of Defense has not provided background information on the 2018 attack. and even refuses to recognize requests for assistance or compensation made in Al Manthari’s name, much less. millions of dollars of funds appropriated by Congress for compensation in such cases.

“It was the American Hellfire missile that cost Adel his family and his health. It should be the United States that would pay for the treatment to save his legs. »

“Congress cut the DoD a check for millions to pay for exactly this type of scenario,” said Jennifer Gibson, human rights attorney and extrajudicial killings project manager at Reprieve, an international rights organization. of the man representing Al Manthari. “The DoD’s refusal to spend even a penny – on Adel or any of the thousands of civilians injured by American drones – sends the message that they simply don’t care about accountability. “

In cases like Al Manthari’s, experts said compensation was hampered by Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin’s resistance to reassessing past claims of civil harm.

“It was the American Hellfire missile that cost Adel his family and his health,” Gibson said. “It should be the United States that would pay for the treatment to save his legs. This is what responsible governments do. They recognize their mistakes. »

A screenshot from a video recorded by a local activist and lawyer shows the aftermath of the March 29, 2018 US drone strike that killed four civilians and seriously injured Adel Al Manthari near Al Uqla, Yemen.

Image: Mohammed Hailan via Reprieve

On March 29, 2018, The drone strike left Al Manthari, then a Yemeni government official, with severe burns on the left side of his body, a fractured hip and severe damage to tendons, nerves and blood vessels in his left hand. The injuries left him unable to walk or work, put him in debt for medical treatment and forced his daughters, aged 8 and 14 at the time of the strike, to drop out of school to care for him.

A 2018 survey by the Associated Press and careful documentation 2021 report by the Yemeni group Mwatana for Human Rights determined that the victims of the 2018 strike were civilians and not, as the Pentagon claimed, Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula “The Terrorists.” In March, the senses. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., and Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., have called on the Pentagon to open a new investigation into the airstrike that disabled Al Manthari, as well as 11 other US attacks in Yemen.

If the story of Al Manthari sounds familiar to you, there’s a good reason. From Libya to Somalia, Syria in Yemen, the US military regularly underestimates the number of civilian casualties, according to family members of victims, investigative journalistsand humanitarian groups who independently investigate complaints. For years, exhibited by journalists and NGO were necessary to push the Ministry of Defense to reinvestigate the attacks and, in limited cases, to acknowledge the killing of civilians.

Last year, for example, a New York Times investigation forced the Pentagon to admit that a “just strikeagainst a terrorist target in Afghanistan in fact killed 10 civilians, including seven children. Times reports also revealed a 2019 airstrike in Syria that killed up to 64 non-combatants and was obscured through multi-layer concealment. And one success survey of US-led airstrikes, combining leather journalism and US military documents, revealed that the air war in Iraq and Syria was marred by misinformation and inaccurate targeting, resulting in the deaths of thousands of innocent people.

After the Times report recently won a Pulitzer Prize, the Department of Defense offered praise and a rare admission. “We know we still had work to do to better prevent civilian harm. And we do this work,” said Pentagon spokesman John Kirby. “We knew we made mistakes, we try to learn from those mistakes. And we knew we weren’t always as transparent about those mistakes as we should have been.

As Kirby touted sweeping change at the Pentagon, Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin; Anna Williams, Senior Civil Protection Advisor; and Cara Negrette, director of international humanitarian policy, had for nearly a month ignored a letter asking that department to reopen the assessment of civilian casualties from the March 29, 2018 strike. The letter, sent on behalf of Al Manthari by Reprieve, called on the Pentagon to provide Al Manthari with emergency medical evacuation and funds to obtain life-saving treatment. To date, no one has even acknowledged – let alone responded to – the request.

“If the Pentagon is truly committed to changing the culture of secrecy and impunity that has surrounded the US drone program for the past decade, then responding to Adel’s complaint would be a start.”

“It’s hard to take Mr. Kirby’s words at face value as the DoD continues to consistently shirk responsibility for the lives killed and destroyed by US drone strikes,” Gibson said of Reprieve. “If the Pentagon is truly committed to changing the culture of secrecy and impunity that has surrounded the US drone program for the past decade, then responding to Adel’s complaint would be a start. Letting it sit on someone’s desk gathering dust while a man loses his legs is like nothing ever happened.

The Pentagon did not respond to a request for an interview with Kirby. Both Williams and Negrette referred The Intercept to Pentagon Public Affairs, who quickly declined a request for an interview from either of them. Asked about Al Manthari’s case, a US military spokesperson replied: “We don’t have any updates. In response to requests for basic information about the 2018 strike, Lt. Col. Karen Roxberry recommended filing a Freedom of Information Act request – a process that can take months or years to complete. produce documents, if they are ever made available.

Adel-Al-Manthari-

Adel Al Manthari, then a Yemeni government official, is treated for severe burns, a broken hip and severe damage to tendons, nerves and blood vessels in his left hand following a drone strike in Yemen in 2018.

Photo: Reprieve

Earlier this week, after Pulitzer’s announcement, Austin expressed a “commitment to transparency and accountabilityin terms of incidents with civilian casualties and stated that “efforts to mitigate and respond to civilian harm resulting from U.S. military operations are a direct reflection of American values.” The memo followed a January memo directing subordinates to write a “Civilian Damage Mitigation and Response Action Planincluding a review of how the Pentagon “responds to civil harm, including but not limited to condolence payments and public acknowledgment of harm.”

For decades, the United States has relied on an arbitrary and demeaning system of solatia: condolence payments made ex gratia, meaning they are provided as an expression of sympathy rather than an admission of wrongdoing for civilians killed or injured in US military operations.

During the Vietnam War, the going rate for an adult killed was $33. The children only deserved half of that. Payouts in Afghanistan ranged from as little as $124 to $15,000 for civilian life. Despite a dedicated annual fund from the Ministry of Defense of $3 million for payments of dead, injured or damaged resulting from US or allied military actions, payments are increasingly rare. The Pentagon’s most recent civilian casualty reportpublished last June, noted that the Department of Defense “did not offer or make such ex gratia payments in 2020.”

“The United States has repeatedly failed to recognize and address civilian harm,” Annie Shiel, senior adviser for US policy and advocacy at the Center for Civilians in Conflict, told The Intercept. “There are so many civilians like Adel Al Manthari and his family mourning the loss of loved ones, suffering from injuries and trauma, or struggling to survive after losing their homes and livelihoods – while waiting some sort of acknowledgment or response from the US government that often never comes.

Even though the United States had an effective system to provide reparations to victims of American attacks, Austin recently spoke out about not reassessing past claims of civilian victims. Last month, when Rep. Sara Jacobs, D-California, asked if the Pentagon planned to reinvestigate past civil harm allegations, Austin replied, “At this point, we have no intention of restarting cases. . This could turn out to be a death sentence for Adel Al Manthari.

During his May 10 press conference, Kirby said that “at the best of times,” the press “holds us accountable.” At every turn, however, the Pentagon has withheld information and hampered reporting efforts regarding the Al Manthari case.

“The watchwords of the US drone program,” Gibson said, “have always been ‘no liability, no excuses, no compensation,’ and a radical overhaul is needed.”

Until then, victims like Al Manthari will have to rely on fundraising websites and the kindness of foreigners to stay alive, while the Pentagon boasts of accountability while trafficking in secrecy and impunity.

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