Drone victim sues US government over family deaths in Yemen

Washington, DC (Reprieve) – A Yemeni man, whose innocent nephew and brother-in-law were killed in an August 2012 U.S. drone strike, has today filed a lawsuit in his ongoing quest for an official apology over his relatives’ deaths.

Faisal bin Ali Jaber, who filed suit today in Washington D.C., lost his brother-in-law Salem and his nephew Waleed in the strike. Salem was an anti-al Qaeda imam who is survived by a widow and seven young children. Waleed was a 26 year old police officer with a wife and infant child of his own. Salem had given a sermon preaching against extremism just days before he and Waleed were killed.

The lawsuit requests that the D.C. District Court issue a declaration that the strike that killed Salem and Waleed was unlawful, but does not ask for monetary compensation. Faisal is jointly represented by Reprieve and pro bono counsel at law firm McKool Smith.

Leaked intelligence – reported in The Intercept – indicates that U.S. officials knew they had killed civilians shortly after the strike. In July 2014 Faisal’s family were offered a bag containing $100,000 in sequentially-marked US dollar bills at a meeting with the Yemeni National Security Bureau (NSB). The NSB official who had requested the meeting told a family representative that the money came from the US and that he had been asked to pass it along.

In November 2013 Faisal travelled to Washington D.C. and met to discuss the strike with Senators and White House officials. Many of the individuals Faisal met offered personal regrets for the deaths of Faisal’s relatives, but the U.S. government has refused publicly to acknowledge or apologise for the attack.

In April of this year, President Obama did apologise for the drone deaths of an American and an Italian citizen held in Pakistan – Warren Weinstein and Giovanni Lo Porto – and announced an independent inquiry into their killings. The complaint notes the discrepancy in the President’s handling of those cases and the bin ali Jaber case, asking: “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?”

Faisal bin Ali Jaber said: “Since the awful day when I lost two of my loved ones, my family and I have been asking the U.S. government to admit their error and say sorry. Our pleas have been ignored. No one will say publicly that an American drone killed Salem and Waleed, even though we all know it. This is unjust. If the U.S. was willing to pay off my family in secret cash, why can’t they simply make a public acknowledgement that my relatives were wrongly killed?”

Cori Crider, Reprieve US attorney for Mr Jaber, said: “Faisal’s case demonstrates the madness of President Obama’s drone programme. Not only were his two relatives among the hundreds of innocent civilians who have been killed by this misguided, dirty war – they were the very people we should be supporting. His brother in law was a remarkably brave preacher who publicly opposed Al Qaeda; his nephew was a local police officer trying to keep the peace. Unlike recent Western victims of drone strikes, Faisal has not received an apology. All he wants is for the US Government to own up and say sorry – it is a scandal that he has been forced to turn to the courts for this most basic expression of human decency.”

Predator drone landing. Incidentally, the other aircraft's design was stolen and copied by the Soviets. Image: DOD

Predator drone landing. Incidentally, the other aircraft’s design was stolen and copied by the Soviets. Image: DOD

Robert Palmer of McKool Smith, the firm that is representing Mr Jaber’s family pro bono, said: “The drone strike that killed Salem and Waleed bin Ali Jaber was taken in circumstances entirely inconsistent both with how the President and others describe U.S. drone operations, and with U.S. and international law.  There was no “imminent risk” to U.S. personnel or interests, and an unmistakable probability of needless civilian casualties was disregarded. As the President himself has acknowledged, the United States has an obligation to face its drone mistakes honestly, and innocent drone victims and their families, like these plaintiffs, are entitled to that honesty from the United States.”