Washington, DC (Reprieve) – The US government has asked a D.C. court to dismiss the case of a Yemeni man whose family members were killed by a US drone strike, on the basis that he has no legal ‘standing’ to bring a case against them.
Earlier this year, Mr bin Ali Jaber filed a lawsuit against President Obama, seeking a declaration from a federal court in Washington, D.C., that the 2012 strike was unlawful and his innocent relatives were wrongfully killed. The Obama administration yesterday filed a motion asking the court to dismiss Mr bin Ali Jaber’s case entirely. They argued that Mr Jaber has no standing – i.e. that he has no legal right to bring his case in the US – and that whether a US drone killed his relatives is a ‘political question’ that no court should review.
However, in November 2013 Mr bin Ali Jaber travelled to Washington, D.C. where he had meetings with White House and NSC officials about his relative’s deaths. No US official suggested then that Mr. Jaber, who is the appointed representative of the Jaber family estates, lacked authority to speak for the family.
Faisal lost his nephew Waleed and his brother-in-law Salem in a US drone attack in the village of Khashamir on August 29 2012. Waleed was a local policeman, and Salem was an imam who was known for speaking out against al-Qaeda in his sermons – including on the Friday before he was killed. After the strike and Faisal’s travels to the US, Faisal’s relatives were given a plastic bag containing $100,000 in sequentially-marked US dollar bills as a condolence payment, but the US has never admitted responsibility for the killings.
Mr bin Ali Jaber had previously written to the White House offering to settle the case on one condition – that he receive a public apology from the US. He did so in the footsteps of President Obama’s apology, earlier this year, to the families of Giovanni Lo Porto and Warren Weinstein, an Italian and an American citizen who were killed in a US drone strike in Pakistan in January. It marked the first known US acknowledgement of responsibility for civilian deaths under the drone programme.
In a letter to President Obama, Cori Crider – Mr bin Ali Jaber’s lawyer at human rights organization Reprieve – writes: “I write today to make a formal offer of settlement. In consideration for dropping this lawsuit, Mr. Jaber asks for nothing more than what you gave the families of Warren Weinstein and Giovanni Lo Porto: an apology and an explanation as to why a strike that killed two innocent civilians was authorized.”
Covert strikes by the CIA in Yemen and Pakistan are believed to have killed hundreds of civilians, but the US has never formally admitted responsibility beyond the deaths of Mr Lo Porto and Mr Weinstein.
Cori Crider, attorney for Faisal bin Ali Jaber and a director at international human rights charity Reprieve, said: “Once again we see the yawning gulf between this President’s rhetoric on drones and the reality. President Obama once said innocent drone deaths would haunt him as long as he lives – so why, then, does sorry seem to be the hardest word? It is insulting to my client to be told he has no right to represent his family’s estate, when White House officials certainly thought he was worthy of meetings in Washington. The US is now trying its level best to block Faisal’s quest for justice by kicking him out of the courts. There is no good reason that the President stood up in front of the world with the Lo Porto and Weinstein families to say sorry for the US’ tragic mistake, but can’t do so for a Yemeni man. The hypocrisy of the Administration’s stance sends a harmful message, telling the entire Muslim world that its lives have no value to the United States.”