Vets back Ye­meni man’s case in U.S. drone deaths

Baltimore Sun - - MARYLAND NATION & WORLD - By W.J. Hennigan

WASH­ING­TON — Three mil­i­tary vet­er­ans once in­volved in the U.S. drone pro­gram have thrown their sup­port be­hind a Ye­meni man’s le­gal fight to ob­tain de­tails about why his fam­ily mem­bers were killed in a 2012 strike.

The for­mer sol­diers’ de­ci­sion to en­dorse the law­suit against Pres­i­dent Barack Obama and other U.S. of­fi­cials adds an­other twist to Faisal bin Ali Jaber’s four-year quest for ac­count­abil­ity in the deaths of his brother-in-law and nephew, who he be­lieves need­lessly fell vic­tim to one of the most lethal covert pro­grams in U.S. his­tory.

The for­mer en­listed ser­vice mem­bers told the U.S. Court of Ap­peals for the District of Columbia Cir­cuit in a re­cent fil­ing that they be­lieve the 2012 drone strike serves as a case study of how mis­takes fre­quently oc­cur in the na­tion’s tar­geted-killing pro­gram, where life-or­death de­ci­sions are based upon top-se­cret ev­i­dence.

Though the vet­er­ans did not dis­close any per­sonal knowl­edge of the strike that is al­leged to have killed Jaber’s rel­a­tives, they claim the mil­i­tary fre­quently la­bels the deaths of un­known vic­tims as “en­emy kills.”

The vet­er­ans’ 17-page fil­ing urges the court to over­turn a pre­vi­ous de­ci­sion to throw out Jaber’s case. The fil­ing is signed by Cian West­more­land, a for­mer Air Force tech­ni­cian who worked on com­mu­ni­ca­tions equip­ment that en­ables drones to fly by re­mote con­trol; Lisa Ling, an Air Na­tional Guard tech­ni­cian who worked on in­tel­li­gence equip­ment; and Bran­don Bryant, an Air Force sen­sor op­er­a­tor who con­trolled cam­eras on drones.

The White House, Air Force and Jus­tice Depart­ment de­clined to com­ment, cit­ing the lit­i­ga­tion.

Jaber, an engi­neer from Sanaa, Ye­men, who now lives in Mon­treal, has vis­ited Wash­ing­ton and met with mem­bers of Congress and the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion to de­scribe why he thinks his brother-in-law, Salem bin Ali Jaber, a Mus­lim imam, and his nephew, Waleed bin Ali Jaber, a po­lice of­fi­cer, were mis­tak­enly tar­geted.

Jaber, 58, said his brother-in-law had given a ser­mon in Khashamir to de­nounce al-Qaida’s ide­ol­ogy. Days later, on Aug. 29, 2012, Salem met sev­eral men who came to the vil­lage in cen­tral Ye­men, and brought Waleed in case any­thing went wrong.

Four mis­siles ex­ploded while the men spoke un­der a palm tree. Jaber be­lieves the vis­i­tors were al-Qaida mem­bers, and his fam­ily was col­lat­eral dam­age.

He said he was later handed a plas­tic bag by Ye­meni gov­ern­ment of­fi­cials with $100,000 in freshly minted, se­quen­tially marked $100 bills wrapped in rub­ber bands.

Re­prieve, an in­ter­na­tional hu­man­i­tar­ian group, sued the U.S. gov­ern­ment for wrong­ful death in 2015, al­leg­ing the drone strike con­sti­tuted an ex­tra­ju­di­cial killing in vi­o­la­tion of cus­tom­ary in­ter­na­tional law. The law­suit was dis­missed in Fe­bru­ary.

Jaber, who ap­pealed the lower court rul­ing Aug. 22, said he has not spent the $100,000 and does not want more money from the U.S. gov­ern­ment. He wants an apol­ogy.

NI­CHOLAS KAMM/GETTY-AFP

Faisal bin Ali Jaber’s brother-in-law and nephew were killed in the 2012 U.S. drone strike.

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