Drones

Yemeni drone victim appeals to US court amid fresh Administration denials on drone deaths

By April 21, 2016 No Comments

PRESS RELEASE: Thursday April 21, 2016

A Yemeni man who lost two civilian relatives in a drone strike has today filed an appeal in his federal lawsuit against the Obama Administration.  

The appeal in Jaber v Obama comes as Obama officials issue fresh denials of discounting foreign lives, telling the Guardian “it is certainly not the case that lives of a certain nationality are more valuable to us than those of any other.”

Today’s appeal – and the years-long silence from the Obama Administration on Mr Jaber’s case – casts doubt on that claim.

Faisal bin ali Jaber, an environmental engineer from Sanaa, is suing for an apology and explanation for the killing of his his brother-in-law Salem and his nephew Waleed in a US drone strike in August 2012.  He has repeatedly sought a transparent acknowledgement of error from this Administration, and in November 2013 travelled 7,000 miles to Washington DC in search of answers.

During that visit, Faisal met two White House national security officials met him to discuss the case. Yet the Obama Administration has never admitted to the strike, nor apologized to Faisal’s family. In contrast, in April 2015, the President publicly apologized for a January 2015 strike that killed an American, Warren Weinstein, and an Italian, Giovanni Lo Porto.

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. Leaked intelligence indicates that U.S. officials knew they had killed civilians shortly after the strike; Faisal subsequently received a phone call from the Yemeni government telling him his family was not the target.

Faisal is suing the Obama Administration to obtain an equivalent apology to that granted to the Weinstein and Lo Porto families. He first filed Jaber v Obama in June 2015, seeking a declaration that the strike was unlawful; in October, he offered to drop the case in exchange for an official apology and a promise to investigate. The Administration never responded. Last week, Faisal’s Reprieve US lawyers wrote to President Obama asking him to meet Faisal during his trip to New York to speak at the Whitney Museum, where the 2012 strike is featured in Laura Poitras’ installation Astro Noise. The President has not replied.

Facing a wall of silence from the Obama Administration, Faisal launched his appeal in Jaber v Obama in Washington DC today.

The case sets the stage for the first U.S. court appearance by a civilian victim of the US drone program.

Faisal bin Ali Jaber said: ““For years our family has asked for an apology and an explanation from the US. When I travel to America, ordinary Americans always apologize for what happened – it seems the only people who don’t care enough to explain and apologize are the people who did it. I read the President said that the deaths of innocents cause him “anguish” – then why will he not account for what happened to my family?”

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.”

“The district court abdicated its duty to ensure that the President complies with the laws prohibiting the extrajudicial killing of civilians.  Under that ruling, there can be no judicial recourse for even the most heinous war crimes committed abroad. We hope the Court of Appeals reverses this dangerous precedent and affords Faisal a modicum of justice.”

ENDS

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.

2. Jaber v Obama was first launched in June 2015. In October 2015, the district court dismissed the case on “political question” grounds, holding that the use of military force abroad was within the discretion of the Executive and un-reviewable by courts.  The court also held that the courts were ill-equipped to assess whether a strike satisfied the legal requirement that a target pose an imminent threat to a U.S. life and that capture is infeasible.

The ruling would indicate that even the most heinous war crimes by the U.S. government are beyond the reach of the U.S. Courts.

Separately, Faisal bin Ali Jaber and Guardian reporter Ed Pilkington yesterday filed a lawsuit over their Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request with several U.S. agencies seeking 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.

3. In 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.

4. President Obama’s apology for the deaths of two Western victims of US drone strikes in Pakistan – Giovanni Lo Porto, and Warren Weinstein – can be seen here.

5. The Guardian’s video series on six Reprieve clients – in which the Obama Administration denies valuing some lives above others – can be seen here.

6. Reprieve’s research on US kill lists and ‘multiple kills’ in the US drone program are available respectively here and here.

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