Vets back Yemeni man’s case in U.S. drone deaths
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.
Faisal bin Ali Jaber’s brother-in-law and nephew were killed in the 2012 U.S. drone strike.