Adel al-Manthari says a botched US drone strike in Yemen could now cost him his legs

The US military took four of Adel al-Manthari’s family members when an Air Force drone hit his car. Four years later, his doctors say the same strike is about to take his legs.

Adel al-Manthari is the only survivor of a March 2018 US drone strike in Yemen that killed his four cousins ​​and sentenced him to lifelong serious health problems. For just a fraction of the cost of one of the $150,000 missiles a US drone fired at his family, the Department of Defense could pay for the complicated surgery Manthari doctors say it needs to keep his legs.

But that would force the Pentagon to do something it has so far refused to do in Yemen: admit it made a mistake and killed civilians who had nothing to do with al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula ( AQAP).

Manthari, like a number of other victims of US drone strikes in Yemen, has spent the past four years trying to clear his family’s name, obtain a US apology and compensate his family. for his injuries and the deaths of his four cousins, all to no avail.

But as his health deteriorates and threatens to rob him of the limited mobility he still enjoys, Manthari’s efforts to seek compensation and clear his family’s name have taken on new urgency. Medical records he shared with The Daily Beast show he “now requires surgery in [a] specialized hospital” which is not available in Yemen, according to his doctors.

In an interview with The Daily Beast, Manthari says he is struggling “medically, physically and psychologically” with the aftermath of the strike but his condition has worsened, especially in recent weeks. “I don’t leave the house at all. My children had to leave their school to take care of me. I haven’t left the house since 2018,” he said.

“I had nothing to do with it. I had no connection with anyone. I was just a government official,” he said. “Because of this, I lost everything .”

On Tuesday, The Daily Beast asked US Central Command why the United States had targeted the Mantharis’ vehicle, which a “credibility assessment” announced by officials following the attack concluded about the strikes, and whether those responsible were prepared to offer compensation.

A Centcom spokesperson wrote that the Pentagon would not have an answer ready by The Daily Beast’s deadline and that a Freedom of Information Act request would likely be required. (The Daily Beast filed a FOIA request.) As of press time, Centcom did not provide answers to questions submitted earlier this week.

In a letter sent to Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin this week, Reprieve, a nonprofit human rights organization that represents Manthari, called on the Pentagon to “urgently reopen civilian casualty assessments.” in this strike and in particular his status as a wounded civilian” and “provide Mr. Al Manthari with emergency medical evacuation to Egypt and the funds he needs to obtain this life-saving treatment.”

“It is a very painful experience.”

Manthari’s struggle to get the United States to reconsider the intelligence that led Air Force personnel to try to kill him highlights the difficulty faced by many of those affected by America’s wars. to try to hold the world’s most powerful military accountable for their targeting decisions. The ongoing health issues facing Manthari also highlight how the cost of military targeting decisions can still add up long after people find themselves in the crosshairs of US air power.

The years that followed were a constant struggle for Manthari, a struggle that is far from over. In 2018, he managed to raise the nearly $15,000 needed to travel to Egypt for painful skin grafts and other specialized medical treatment in 2018 and 2019 through loans and his family.

“I suffered severe burns to my legs and arms. I also suffered from a broken pelvis which now hinders my ability to move,” he says.

But he still hasn’t been able to repay the debt from his last surgeries and he can’t afford the fasciotomy operation which his doctors say could help relieve the pressure and swelling in his legs. and save them from amputation, for which he hopes for compensation. the United States could.

There are also psychological scars. His daughters were 10 and 14 when the drone hit their father. “My children had to leave school to take care of me,” he says. They are aware of what happened but he doesn’t talk much about the day of the strike with his family. “It’s a very painful experience.”

It is not difficult to understand why. On the day of the strike, Manthari looked around at the burning Toyota and saw his cousin Abdullah, whom he described as “a pleasant man with very high morals” who “was humble and always had a smile on his face. “, cut in half and decapitated. He saw Mohammed lying with his legs missing and Salem, his cousins ​​who had grown up together in the same village, slumped. All three were dead.

He and his cousin Nasser managed to free themselves from the vehicle as local men rushed to drag them out of the vehicle and rush them to the hospital. Manthari lived. Nasser died after a two-week struggle in hospital.

A number of organizations have vouched for the Manthari family’s innocence, but the Ministry of Defense has refused to budge and admit any mistakes.

The Mantharis have long claimed that the five men from the Toyota Land Cruiser hit by a US drone that day in Yemen’s Bayda governorate were traveling to the village of al-Aqla to serve as witnesses in a land deal. .

Investigations by Mwatana, a Yemen-based human rights group, the Associated Press, AirWars investigative journalism and Yemeni tribal leaders all concluded there was no evidence to tie the Al Manthari family to AQAP, as the Pentagon initially claimed.

Egypt, a close US ally that is known for detaining, torturing and even executing Islamists, has twice allowed Manthari to travel – once in 2018 and again in 2019 – to receive medical treatment and physical therapy unavailable in Yemen, according to passport stamps seen by The Daily Beast.

In a rare move, a tribal council of elders in Yemen’s Al Sawma’ah district, where the strike took place, issued a joint statement shortly after the incident that claimed the Manthari family “had no relationship with al-Qaeda or any other group” and demanded that the district governor investigate the attack.

And in March, Senators Chris Murphy (D-CT) and Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) wrote a letter to Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin urging him to investigate “credible reports of civilian harm,” citing a Mwatana’s review identifying the Mantharis as civilians. not affiliated with AQAP.

Faced with allegations that their strike had gone awry, US Central Command, the military command in charge of operations in the Middle East, pledged to conduct a “credibility assessment” of the strike. Since then, no one from the Department of Defense has revealed what, if anything, that assessment determined.

In a 2019 report mandated by Congress, the Pentagon washed its hands of all guilt for killing noncombatants in Yemen in 2018. There were, it wrote, “no credible reports of civilian casualties US military operations in Yemen or Libya” that year.

If the United States was inclined to accede to Manthari’s request, the money is available. In 2020, Congress granted the Department of Defense an annual fund of $3 million to make such ex gratia payments.

But in its latest civilian casualty report, released for the year 2020, “Not a single dollar has been paid out to casualties,” says Marc Garlasco, a former Defense Intelligence Agency analyst who works as a military adviser for PAX. for Peace, a non-profit organization. on civil protection. “It is shockingly rare for the United States to admit civilian casualties,” whether from US drone strikes or manned aircraft.

Garlsasco says nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) are often more likely to determine that US airstrikes killed civilians than Pentagon analysts, in part because “the United States stopped field investigations in 2014 and that they have a poor record of cooperating with NGOs to obtain clarifying information. the United States might not have access to it.

This is true in the case of Manthari. In his letter to Secretary Austin, Reprieve wrote that, despite their willingness to meet with the Department of Defense, “no one from the Department of Defense, or any other branch of the United States government, has ever contacted the family members of the victims or witnesses”. on strike. »

Although the US military killed members of his family and sent him on a long and painful medical odyssey, Manthari expresses no hatred when asked about his feelings for the Pentagon.

“They should actually try to identify where the terrorist groups are and hit those targets, but instead they use planes when they target peaceful residents on the roads and that’s not correct,” he said. he.

When asked what he would like Americans to know about what their government is doing in Yemen, Manthari was adamant. “The people of Yemen are peaceful civilians,” he said. ” It is not fair. [The U.S.] should treat us as they would like to be treated. They should know that we have children and that we want to live in dignity. We want to show our children that there is a life full of education. Blind targeting is not correct.

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