Three years after a U.S. drone strike in Yemen killed two civilians attending a wedding, a German court on Wednesday ruled against a member of the victims' family in a case that challenges international support for the so-called "War on Terror."
Faisal bin Ali Jaber was granted permission to appeal the court's decision after judges rejected his constitutional claim against Germany, filed last October following the deaths of Jaber's nephew and brother-in-law, killed in a U.S. drone strike on August 29, 2012 in the village of Khashamir.
The claim was filed after revelations that Ramstein Air Base, situated in southwest Germany but operated by the U.S. Air Force, is "crucial to facilitating American covert drone strikes in Yemen," according to legal charity Reprieve. Jaber is represented by Reprieve and the European Center for Human Rights.
Jaber could not testify in person because travel restrictions in Yemen—implemented over the Saudi Arabia-led military assault against Houthi rebels—prevented him from leaving the country. He had his statement read before the court on Wednesday.
President Barack Obama and German officials previously denied that Germany was involved in drone operations. However, a top-secret intelligence document leaked earlier this year confirmed that Ramstein "is the site of a satellite relay station that enables drone operators in the American Southwest to communicate with their remote aircraft in Yemen, Somalia, Afghanistan and other targeted countries," as written by The Intercept, which published a report on the document in April.
The 2012 strike prompted protests in Yemen, particularly as one of the men killed, Salim bin Ali Jaber, was known to be a vocal opponent of al Qaeda, the purported target of the attack.
Observers said before the ruling that the case could have set a precedent for international governments participating in the U.S. drone strike campaign. The judges on Wednesday only conceded that it is "plausible" the Ramstein base is a crucial part of the U.S. drone strike operation in Yemen.
Following the ruling, Jaber expressed dismay over the court's decision—but vowed to continue fighting.
"I had hoped that today the Court would restore Yemen's faith in the West's commitment to the rule of law, and that the German government would put a stop to its role in these illegal and immoral operations," Jaber said. "It is shameful that they won't even admit to the part they play in killing innocent civilians and terrorizing entire communities."
"But we will not give up," he continued. "It is—quite simply—a matter of life or death for us."
Kat Craig, Reprieve legal director who represents Jaber, added, "For too long, the drone program has been allowed to operate in the shadows—away from judicial and public scrutiny. Whilst we may have lost today, this hearing was an important step in the direction of greater transparency and accountability for the US and its allies in its illegal and immoral drone program."
The ruling "simply means that we must redouble our efforts to support our clients in their attempts to end the death and suffering that drones bring in Yemen," Craig continued.
Jaber added: "This is just the beginning of our efforts and I will continue to place my faith in the justice system and the rule of law, to find a peaceful and sustainable way to keep myself and my family safe, and end the devastation brought to my country by drones."