Yemeni Whose Family Was Killed by Signature Drone Strike Sues US Government

Faisal bin Ali JaberA Yemeni civil engineer has filed a lawsuit in a United States federal court requesting that a judge declare that a drone strike was unlawful and resulted in the wrongful deaths of two members of his family.

On August 29, 2012, Faisal bin Ali Jaber’s brother-in-law, Salem, and his nephew, Waleed, were killed. The drone strike was reportedly a “signature strike,” which means based on patterns of life an attack team decided to carry out the strike that killed his family.

Salem, according to the complaint filed by Reprieve, was “an imam known locally for his sermons against terrorist violence.” Days before Salem’s death, “he had preached in Khashamir against al Qaeda and its methods.”

“Faisal’s nephew Waleed was the village’s local traffic policeman, who accompanied Salem as protection to an evening meeting with three youths who had driven into the village earlier in the day and had asked to meet with Salem. These three young men were the apparent targets of the drone strike,” the complaint claims.

“While the drone operators fixed on the visitors as their principal targets, Salem and Waleed were anonymously—but deliberately—attacked simply for having spoken to them.”

The complaint argues that Khashamir was not nearby “any battlefield” and, therefore, there was no “urgent military purpose or other emergency” to justify exterminating Salem and Waleed.

“The strike plainly violated the Torture Victim Prevention Act’s ban on extrajudicial killings,” the complaint further suggests. “Even if the strikes were taken as part of the United States’ war on al Qaeda, the strike violated the principles of distinction and proportionality. These are established norms of the laws of war, which are elements of customary international law that the United States explicitly acknowledges bind this country and apply to its drone warfare operations.”

An unnamed Yemeni official contacted family to offer condolences, which could be viewed as a tacit admission that wrongful deaths occurred.

Faisal bin ali Jaber pursued avenues of justice in Yemen but was met with “official silence.” He traveled to the US in late 2013 to meet with members of Congress and representatives of President Barack Obama’s National Security Council.

“Do they approve of such a policy? Do they approve of the killing of innocent civilians in a very far country?” Jaber wanted to find out. Or, are they people who believe Yemen means them no harm? “What is their reaction? Are they a peaceful society which really doesn’t mean any harm to other people?”

While officials were willing to offer “personal condolences” for his loss of family, “they could not or would not explain the reason for the attack or acknowledge officially that a US drone killed” his relatives.

Obama acknowledged weeks ago that a US drone had killed two hostages, an Italian and an American, who were being held hostage by al Qaeda. He stated that victims’ “families deserve to know the truth” and maintained that his apology demonstrated how the US is willing to “confront squarely our imperfections and to learn from our mistakes.”

In the filed complaint, Reprieve asks, “The President has now admitted to killing innocent Americans and Italians with drones; why are the bereaved families of innocent Yemenis less entitled to the truth?” (more…)