From his witness testimony, April 23, 2013 | United States Senate Judiciary Committee Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Human Rights | Washington, DC

I am from Wessab, a remote mountain village in Yemen, about nine hours’ drive from my country’s capital, Sana’a. Most of the world has never heard of Wessab. But just six days ago, my village was struck by a drone, in an attack that terrified thousands of simple, poor farmers. The drone strike and its impact tore my heart, much as the tragic bombings in Boston last week tore your hearts and also mine…

I am here today to talk about the human costs and consequences of targeted killing by the United States in Yemen…

My life changed forever in the 9th grade when I was awarded a scholarship from the US State Department. The scholarship gave me an opportunity to study English for one year at Amideast, the American English Center in Yemen… I was later awarded a State Department scholarship to the Youth and Exchange Study program, which aims to build peace and understanding between the American people and people in Muslim countries.

That scholarship allowed me to spend a year living with an American family and attending an American high school…I made exceptional friends with my American classmates and had the most interesting and enriching experience one could imagine. I filled my days spending time with my American friends, learning about American culture, visiting churches almost every Sunday, learning about Christianity for the first time in my life, managing the school’s basketball team, walking the Relay for Life, and even participating in a trick or treat at Halloween. In school, I won the Academic Excellence award in my US History class, even ahead of my American classmates…

Through a third scholarship from the US State Department — the Tomorrow’s Leaders scholarship — I was able to go to the most prestigious university in the Middle East, the American University of Beirut, where I recently graduated. The Tomorrow’s Leaders scholarship enabled me to complete my undergraduate studies in Public Policy.

I will carry the experiences of my time in America with me for the rest of my life… After that year, however, I returned home and became an ambassador for Americans to my country. I will happily retain this role for the rest of my life. I am a defender of the American values I learned when I studied and lived in the United States…

One of the most rewarding experiences I have had has been working as a ”fixer” for international journalists in Yemen and Beirut. This work has allowed me to help the world learn about the experiences of my friends and neighbors. Most of my work with international journalists has been in the southern provinces of Abyan, Aden, Al-dhalea and Lahj — three of the areas where the United States has focused its so-called ”war on terror.”

Just six days ago, this so-called war came straight to my village. As I was thinking about my testimony and preparing to travel to the United States to participate in this hearing, I learned that a missile from a US drone had struck the village where I was raised…

For almost all of the people in Wessab, I’m the only person with any connection to the United States. They called and texted me that night with questions that I could not answer: Why was the United States terrifying them with these drones? Why was the United States trying to kill a person with a missile when everyone knows where he is and he could have been easily arrested?…

My understanding is that Hameed Meftah, who is also known as Hameed Al-Radmi, was the target of the drone strike. Many people in Wessab know Al-Radmi. Earlier on the night he was killed, he was reportedly in the village meeting with the General Secretary of Local Councilors, the head of the local government. A person in the village told me that Al-Radmi had also met with security and government officials at the security headquarters just three days prior to the drone strike. Yemeni officials easily could have found and arrested Al-Radmi.

After the strike, the farmers in Wessab were afraid and angry. They were upset because they know Al-Radmi but they did not know that he was a target, so they could have potentially been with him during the missile strike. Some of the people that were with Al-Radmi when he was killed were never affiliated with AQAP [al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula] and only knew Al-Radmi socially. The farmers in my village were angry because Al-Radmi was a man with whom government security chiefs had a close connection. This made him look legitimate and granted him power in the eyes of those poor farmers, who had no idea that being with him meant they were risking death from a US drone.

The people in my village wanted Al-Radmi to be captured, so that they could question him and find out what he was doing wrong so they could put an end to it. They still don’t have an answer to that question. Instead, all they have is the psychological fear and terror that now occupies their souls. They fear that their home or a neighbor’s home could be bombed at any time by a US drone…

There is nothing villagers in Wessab needed more than a school to educate the local children or a hospital to help decrease the number of women and children dying every day. Had the United States built a school or hospital, it would have instantly changed the lives of my fellow villagers for the better and been the most effective counterterrorism tool. And I can almost certainly assure you that the villagers would have gone to arrest the target themselves.

Instead of first experiencing America through a school or a hospital, most people in Wessab first experienced America through the terror of a drone strike. What radicals had previously failed to achieve in my village, one drone strike accomplished in an instant: there is now an intense anger and growing hatred of America…

In early March 2013, I was working with Newsweek in Abyan when I met the mother of a boy named Muneer Muhammed. Muneer, an 18 year old boy, transported goods for shops via his donkey in the local souk of Ja’ar town. He had recently been engaged and was preparing for his wedding. Muneer was at work when a missile hit and killed him in May 2012.

At the time of strike, Muneer’s mother was in Lahj. She told me that she could not attend her son’s funeral or even see him before he was buried, due to the heavy fighting between the government forces and Ansar Al-Shariah along the road between Lahj and Abyan. In fact, the last time this grieving mother saw her son was when she was shown his dead body on a video from a random eyewitness’s phone. She told me, in tears, that if she ever meets the individual who shot the missile, she will ”crunch him into pieces” in her mouth.

The people with whom we spoke in Abyan told us that Muneer was not a member of AQAP. But that has not stopped AQAP from trying to use his death to recruit supporters to their cause. Local residents told us that they approached one of Muneer’s relatives urging him to join AQAP in order to seek revenge for Muneer’s death…

I know that some policy makers in the United States and Yemen claim that AQAP does not use drone strikes as a tool to recruit more people to their cause. This is incorrect. The case of the Toaiman family in Mareb, as reported by NPR based on a trip in which I participated, is one specific example. The Toaiman’s oldest son joined AQAP hoping to avenge the death of his father, an innocent civilian killed by a drone strike in October 2011. The son has 28 brothers waiting to do so as well. One of his youngest brothers, a 9 year old, carries a picture of a plane in his pocket. The boy openly states that he wants revenge and identifies his father’s killer as ”America.”…

In another, perverse sense, targeted killings further the goals of AQAP. What AQAP fighters ultimately demand, according to their ideology and distortion of Islam, is heaven and martyrdom. In their minds, when they are targeted and killed by a drone strike, that’s exactly what they receive. Instead of effectively combating AQAP’s ideology through a comprehensive approach that includes economic and social development, as well as ideological tactics, air strikes amount to a military-only solution.

The drone strikes are the face of America to many Yemenis. If America is providing economic, social and humanitarian assistance to Yemen, the vast majority of the Yemeni people know nothing about it.

Everyone in Yemen, however, knows about America and its drones…

If it’s not already clear from my testimony today, let me say this very plainly: I hate AQAP. I don’t support their ideology. I don’t like the way they have distorted my religion. And I despise their methods. The fight against AQAP, however, is not a traditional war. And I fear that these air strikes undermine the United States’ effort to defeat AQAP and win the hearts and minds of the Yemeni people. You can’t win this war by simply killing more people on the other side. Rather, I see the war against AQAP as a war of mistakes. The fewer mistakes you make, the more likely you are to win. Simply put, with drone strikes, the United States has made more mistakes than AQAP.

To be clear, I am not only referring to the mistake of killing innocent civilians. Of course, the death of an innocent civilian is the most tragic mistake of all. Nevertheless, even when no civilians are harmed, the United States makes a huge mistake when missiles fail to reach their intended target. Drone strikes that miss their targets make these terrorists look brave. They become role models, simply by evading weapons being launched by the greatest military power on earth…

I have to say that the drone strikes and the targeted killing program have made my passion and mission in support of America almost impossible in Yemen. In some areas of Yemen, the anger against America that results from the strikes makes it dangerous for me to even acknowledge having visited America, much less testify how much my life changed thanks to the State Department scholarships. It’s sometimes too dangerous to even admit that I have American friends.

Late last year, I was with an American colleague from an international media outlet on a tour of Abyan. Suddenly, locals started to become paranoid. They were moving erratically and frantically pointing toward the sky. Based on their past experiences with drone strikes, they told us that the thing hovering above us — out of sight and making a strange humming noise — was an American drone. My heart sank. I was helpless. It was the first time that I had ear-nestly feared for my life, or for an American friend’s life in Yemen. I was standing there at the mercy of a drone.