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President Obama insists drone killing ‘lawful’, while fighting legal scrutiny

By December 6, 2016 No Comments

December 6, 2016

The Obama Administration will today publicly insist upon the legality of the US drone killing program, even as it ramps up its federal court fight to avoid legal accountability.

December 13th will seeAir Force officials are seeking volunteers for future training classes to produce operators of the MQ-1 Predator unmanned aircraft. (U.S. Air Force photo/Lt Col Leslie Pratt) a hearing in DC in a landmark case brought by a Yemeni victim of the US drone program.

Expanding upon a report released yesterday by the White House, President Obama will today give a speech in which he describes the legal justification for detaining and killing people in the course of the ‘War on Terror’. The White House report also cites the President’s Executive Order on civilian casualties, which requires civilian deaths in US drone strikes to be investigated and acknowledged.

However, in Jaber v Obama, which is due to be heard on appeal in Washington DC on December 13th, the Obama Administration is refusing to either admit responsibility or apologize to a Yemeni man who lost two innocent civilian relatives in a drone strike.

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 requested transparency, and in November 2013 travelled 7,000 miles to Washington DC to meet two White House national security officials.

The Obama Administration has never admitted to the strike, nor apologized to Faisal’s family.

By contrast, in April 2015, the President publicly apologized for a January 2015 strike that killed an American citizen, Warren Weinstein, and an Italian, Giovanni Lo Porto.

Shelby Sullivan Bennis, Reprieve attorney for Faisal bin ali Jaber, said: “If President Obama truly believes that drone killing should be lawful and transparent, why is his Administration fighting tooth and nail  to avoid the scrutiny of American judges in Jaber v. Obama? Why won’t the President simply come clean and apologize to Faisal bin Ali Jaber for the killing of his innocent family members? If the President is serious about encouraging accountability in future Administrations, he must put his words into action in DC federal court on December 13.”


Notes for 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.

2. The Obama Administration’s report on the legality in the use of force is here 2016_12 Obama Admin Legality in Use of Force Report

3. Salem bin ali Jaber 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 bin ali Jaber 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 spring, 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 was featured in Laura Poitras’ installation Astro Noise. The President did not reply.

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. 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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