Families sue US govt, seek official apology over drone killings in Yemen

Reuters / Khaled Abdullah
The families of an anti-Al-Qaeda cleric and a police officer killed in a US drone strike in Yemen in 2012, have filed a lawsuit in Washington, DC, seeking an official apology and acknowledgement that innocent civilians were mistakenly killed.

Faisal Ali Jaber, an engineer, who lost a brother-in-law Salem and his nephew Waleed in a drone strike, has filed the lawsuit. He is asking the District Court to declare the attack by the unmanned aircraft unlawful. The international human rights groupReprieveis giving Ali Jaber assistance.

The plaintiffs said they are seeking to break the secrecy surrounding drones strikes and have the court impose some public accountability for the program.

“Since the awful day when I lost two of my loved ones, my family and I have been asking the US government to admit their error and say sorry. Our pleas has been ignored. No one will publicly admit that an American drone killed Salem and Waleed, even though we all know it. This is unjust,” said Ali Jaber.

Faisal’s brother-in-law Salem Ahmed bin Ali Jaber, was a cleric who had delivered an anti-Al-Qaeda speech just days before the strike. Three young men had driven to the village with the intention of trying to find Salem and asked to speak to him several times. Salem finally agreed to meet with them with Waleed as protection. As the five men talked, four Hellfire missiles killed them, as villagers watched on August 29, 2012 in eastern Yemen.

READ MORE: German court hears case into US drone killings in Yemen

“The bodies of all five men were blown apart,” according to the complaint. “Salem and Waleed could be identified only be people who knew them well and could recognize body parts – such as distinctive hair on portions of the heads of Salem and Waleed found in the blast area.”

Salem is survived by a widow and seven children and Waleed, 26, had a wife and child.

Leaked intelligence, reported by The Intercept, indicated US official knew they had killed civilians shortly after the strike.

Faisal bin Ali Jabar received a phone call from a Yemeni security official hours after the attack informing him that Salem and Waleed were not the intended targets. In November 2013 Faisal traveled to Washington, DC, to discuss the strike with Senators and White House officials. Many offered their condolences for the deaths but they did not receive an official apology, according to Reprieve.

In 2014, Yemeni officials paid the families a total of $155,000 in compensation in cash. The families assumed the money came from the US but no explanation was forthcoming.

“If the US 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?” said Ali Jaber in a released statement by Reprieve.

READ MORE: Yemeni man sues Germany over US drone attack that killed his relatives

The lawsuit comes just months after President Obama apologized for the drone deaths of an American and Italian citizen held in Pakistan – Warren Weinstein and Giovanni Lo Porto – and announced an independent inquiry into their killings.

The complaints asks “The President has now admitted to killing innocent Americans and Italians by drones; why are the bereaved families of innocent Yemenis less entitled to the truth?”

The suit challenges the legality of the strike under the Torture Victim Protection Act and the Alien Tort Statute.

The circumstances surrounding the drone strike that killed Salem and Waleed bin Ali Jaber was inconsistent with how the President and others describe US drone operations, and in accordance with US and international law. There was no ‘imminent risk’ to US personnel or interests, while the unmistakable probability of needless civilian casualties was disregarded,” said Robert Palmer of McKool Smith, who is representing Ali Jaber’s family.

This is the Ali Jaber family’s latest attempt to fight for justice. In late May, a court in Cologne, Germany also began to hear evidence into the case. In their lawsuit, relatives alleged that Germany, violated its constitutional obligation to protect people’s lives after allowing the US to use the Ramstein air base to relay flight control data for drones used in combat missions.

Overall, the CIA drone strikes in Yemen have killed up to 673 people, including nearly 100 civilians, from 2002 to 2015, according to the Bureau of Investigative Journalism.