Faisal bin Ali Jaber asked for an apology. He didn’t even get an acknowledgment.
The 57-year-old has been on a quest for justice since his brother-in-law and nephew were killed in a U.S. drone strike at a village mosque in Khashamir, Yemen in 2012.
“Our family are not your enemy,” Jaber said in a statement. “In fact, the people you killed had strongly and publicly opposed al Qaeda.”
He attended a meeting at the White House in 2013, but officials there refused to recognize that innocent civilians had been killed by American counter-terrorism efforts in Yemen. Losing hope that the U.S. would admit that its drone program overstepped the bounds of the law, Jaber decided to take the matter to court.
Earlier this week, his lawyers at the human rights organization Reprieve said that he would settle the case in exchange for an apology and an explanation of what happened on the August day when his family members were killed.
He got neither. Instead, lawyers for the Justice Department responded to Jaber’s appeal with the same statement that’s been offered to many who have sought redress for drone strikes.
“The government could not confirm or deny” that the strike occurred, Justice Department attorneys wrote in a filing issued on Wednesday.
“Plaintiffs ask the Court to second-guess a series of complicated policy decisions allegedly made by the Executive regarding whether to conduct a counterterrorism operation,” the statement read. “The Executive makes such decisions after, among other things, weighing sensitive intelligence information and diplomatic considerations, far afield from the judiciary’s area of expertise.”
But the administration has taken steps to assess and even apologize for its use of drones in other instances.
In April, president Obama expressed “profound regret” over the drone strike that killed an American and an Italian aid worker. Warren Weinstein and Giovanni Lo Porto were being held captive by al Qaeda in a compound in a remote part of Pakistan which was hit by a drone in January.
“As president and as commander-in-chief, I take full responsibility for all our counterterrorism operations,” Obama added. “On behalf of the United States government, I offer our deepest apologies to the families.”
Repreive, which has supported Jaber’s quest for justice, compared how the administration responded to the deaths of the two Western nationals and its client’s Yemeni relatives.
“There is no good reason that the President stood up in front of the world with the Lo Porto and Weinstein families to say sorry for the [United States’] tragic mistake, but can’t do so for a Yemeni man,” Cori Crider of Reprieve said in a statement emailed to ThinkProgress on Friday. “The hypocrisy of the Administration’s stance sends a harmful message, telling the entire Muslim world that its lives have no value to the United States.”
The administration has rebutted claims that there is a double standard based on nationality.
While he didn’t speak to Jaber’s case specifically, White House’s National Security Council chief spokesman, Ned Price said, “The US government takes seriously all credible reports of non-combatant deaths and injuries – irrespective of nationality – and recognizes that every loss of innocent life is tragic. In those rare instances in which it appears non-combatants may have been killed or injured, we have, when appropriate, provided acknowledgement and compensation to the victims or their families.”
The issue of compensation is further complicates Jaber’s case. According to Reprieve, his family was given $100,000 cash at a meeting with the Yemeni National Security Bureau. The Yemeni official who passed off the bag of money told a member of Jaber’s family that it was from the U.S.
His lawyers believe the money reveals that the deaths were “a mistake” although it came with no such acknowledgement. That’s led Jaber to see the payment as something different: hush money.
“[T]his is not justice,” he said in a statement. “There are many other families in Yemen who have lost innocent relatives in US drone strikes but do not receive hush money for speaking out.”
According to the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, up to 725 people in Yemen have killed by drone strikes. As many as 101 of them may have been civilians.
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