Family of Drone Victims Files FOIA Lawsuit Demanding Answers from U.S. Government

By April 20, 2016 No Comments

PRESS RELEASE: Wednesday April 20, 2016

A Yemeni man who lost two civilian relatives to a U.S. drone strike in August 2012 has today filed a federal lawsuit in Washington DC under the Freedom of Information Act, demanding information about the strike that took their lives.

Faisal bin ali Jaber, an environmental engineer from Sanaa, lost his brother-in-law Salem and his nephew Waleed in the strike. Salem was an anti-extremist imam and father of seven, who had preached against al Qaeda just days before he was killed. Waleed was a 26 year old police officer with a wife and small baby.

According to leaked intelligence, 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.

To date, the Obama Administration has refused to acknowledge its involvement in the strike — in stark contrast to the President’s apology following a drone strike in January 2015 that killed an American, Warren Weinstein, and an Italian, Giovanni Lo Porto. Having failed to elicit any explanation from the U.S. Government, Faisal and Guardian reporter Ed Pilkington filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request with several U.S. agencies seeking any information about the strike.  To date, the agencies have refused to issue a substantive response to the requests, in violation of the law’s requirement that they respond within 20 days.

This lawsuit follows numerous attempts to obtain an official acknowledgement of the strike, including:

  • November 2014: Faisal traveled 7,000 miles to Washington DC, where he met several members of Congress and at least one White House official. No-one from the Government would admit that the strike even happened.
  • June 2015: Faisal filed a lawsuit against President Obama, and the former heads of the Department of Defense and CIA, asking for a declaration that the strike was unlawful. The Government sought to get the case dismissed.
  • October 2015: Faisal offered to drop the case in exchange for an official apology and a promise to investigate the circumstances that led to the strike. The Government never responded to Faisal’s offer.
  • Last week: Faisal’s Reprieve lawyers wrote to the President asking him to meet with Faisal during Faisal’s trip to New York to speak at the Whitney Museum, where the strike on his family is featured in Laura Poitras’ installation Astro Noise. The President has not replied.

Faisal bin Ali Jaber said: “A secret bag of money from the U.S. Government is not enough.  We wish to know why our innocent loved ones were killed, no less so than the families of Mr Weinstein and Mr Lo Porto.”

Joe Pace, Reprieve US attorney for Faisal, said: “It is disgraceful that Faisal has had to take the United States to court twice to find out why his innocent loved ones were slaughtered by a US drone.  We cannot claim to be moral leaders, yet brush these sorts of travesties under the rug. President Obama was quick to apologize and promise an investigation when a drone strike killed two Westerners in Pakistan last year.  Faisal has only asked that he be accorded the same consideration, nothing more.”


Notes to editors

1. Reprieve is an international human rights organization. Reprieve US, based in New York City, can be contacted on Katherine [dot] oshea [at] reprieve.org / +1 917 855 8064. Reprieve’s London office can be contacted on: communications [at] reprieve.org.uk / +44 (0) 207 553 8140.


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