Somali man issues legal challenge against US, Germany over father's drone killing

© Effrain Lopez
A Somali man has filed a criminal complaint against the United States and Germany for their roles in the alleged drone killing of his father, whom he claims was an innocent man caught up in an attack on a suspected member of Islamist group Al-Shabaab.

"CD," as the man is called in court documents, said his father, a camel herder called "AB," died in a drone bombing in southern Somalia in February 2012, according to the Guardian, amid the hunt for Mohamed Sakr, a former British citizen and suspected member of the Somalia-based militant group Al-Shabaab. Sakr, whose British citizenship was stripped in 2010 when he allegedly joined the group, was believed to have been killed in the strike.

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The legal action brought by attorneys with the Open Society Justice Initiative claimed that in addition to US culpability for the death of CD's father, Germany “plays an indispensable role in secret drone killings in Somalia” given it hosts military bases that are involved in US drone operations that end in “unlawful covert killing” and exceed the international definition of a war zone.

While drone operations targeting suspects in Somalia are conducted by pilots in the US operating unmanned aircraft launched in nearby Djibouti, the data sent back and forth between the pilot and the drone goes through Ramstein air base in Germany, according to the court filing. CD's lawyers cited in court documents evidence first published by news outlets that obtained secret US documents supplied by whistleblower Edward Snowden that explained Ramstein's role in covert US drone strikes.

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CD's attorneys also said the strike that killed AB would have been planned by US Africa Command, which is stationed in Stuttgart, Germany. These circumstances, the lawyers said, add up to the killing of AB by “US and German military and secret services."

“At issue in this case is whether states like Germany can support a secret killing programme that operates outside the law while evading all accountability," said Amrit Singh, a senior lawyer at the Open Society Justice Initiative."It is vitally important that the courts intervene to guard against the setting of a dangerous precedent and impose lawful restraints on states that support a virtually limitless authority to kill.”

Neither the German military nor the US embassy in Berlin would respond to the Guardian's request for comment.

According to the court documents, AB did not return home with his camels on February 24, 2012. CD and some neighbors went out to search for AB the next morning, eventually finding evidence of an airstrike. AB's body was found torn to pieces, as were several of the camels. A mangled car, believed to be the direct target of the strike, was found amid the wreckage.

“Our client’s father went out to work one day in the fields, and never came back, becoming the innocent victim of a drone strike he had no reason to suspect was coming," said Natalie von Wistinghausen, one of CD's German lawyers. "There has been no investigation into his case. His family has received no explanation for why he was killed. They want justice.”

Built in 1948, Ramstein Air Base in Rhineland-Palatinate, southwestern Germany serves as the headquarters for the United States Air Force in Europe.

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In April 2014, the testimony of a former US Air Force drone pilot revealed that Washington is using the base as its nerve center to wage highly controversial drone warfare in Africa, Yemen, and Pakistan.

“The entire drone war of the US military wouldn't be possible without Germany," Brandon Bryant, who resigned in 2011, told NDR television and the German newspaper Sueddeutsche Zeitung.

Germany has been blamed for maintaining an important role in illegal drone killings in previous court cases. For instance, in June, a German court rejected a case involving the killing of a Yemeni man whose brother, Faisal bin Ali Jaber, said Germany was complicit in the lethal strike. While the court refused the case based on a possible breach of the separation of powers, it did allow Jaber to appeal.