The administration of President Barack Obama is refusing to formally apologize for the drone strike that killed the family members of Yemeni man Faisal bin Ali Jaber—who has spent months battling in the courts for justice or, short of that, mere acknowledgement of his loss.
The 2012 bombing killed Faisal's nephew Waleed bin Ali Jaber, a police officer, and brother-in-law Salem bin Ali Jaber, a local imam reportedly known for preaching against al-Qaeda, when it struck their village of Khashamir.
After Faisal traveled to the U.S. in 2013 to discuss his family members' deaths with the White House, his relatives "were given a plastic bag containing $100,000 in sequentially-marked U.S. dollar bills as a condolence payment," according to the human rights organization Reprieve.
However, the U.S. never acknowledged its responsibility for the killings.
"This seems to be the Obama administration's cold calculation: Yemeni lives are cheap. They cost the President no political or moral capital."
—Faisal bin Ali Jaber
Seeking formal restitution, Faisal launched a lawsuit against Obama earlier this year charging that the bombing in 2012 amounted to the unlawful and wrongful killing of innocents.
"What is the value of a human life? The secret payment to my family represents a fraction of the cost of the operation that killed them," Faisal wrote in a June op-ed announcing the lawsuit. "This seems to be the Obama administration's cold calculation: Yemeni lives are cheap. They cost the President no political or moral capital."
On Monday, Fasail's legal team extended an offer to the White House. "In consideration for dropping this lawsuit," wrote Reprieve attorney Cori Crider, "Mr. Jaber asks for nothing more than what you gave the families of Warren Weinstein and Giovanni Lo Porto: an apology and an explanation as to why a strike that killed two innocent civilians was authorized."
U.S. citizen Weinstein and Italian national Lo Porto were killed in a January 2015 drone strike in Pakistan. In a much-vaunted public apology in April, Obama declared: "Amid grief that is unimaginable, I pray that these two families will find some small measure of solace in knowing that Warren and Giovanni’s legacy will endure."
But on Wednesday, Faisal got word that he will not receive the same solace. The U.S. government declined the settlement offer and requested a court dismiss the lawsuit because Faisal lacks the "standing" to levy the case.
"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," Department of Justice attorneys wrote in a court filing submitted Wednesday. "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."
The refusal means that the only apology the president has uttered has been in response to western victims of its drone wars, despite the high price civilians are paying in Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia, and beyond.
"The U.S. is now trying its level best to block Faisal's quest for justice by kicking him out of the courts," Crider declared on Friday. "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 US’ tragic mistake, but can’t do so for a Yemeni man. 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."