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'True Cost of Covert Killings' Demanded as Drone Strike Victims Speak Out

'It’s crucial that we come to grips with the true extent of the collateral damage these strikes have caused'

Andrea Germanos

Faisal bin ali Jaber wants answers—and an apology—from the Obama administration for a U.S. drone strike that killed members of his family.

The environmental engineer from Sanaa, Yemen continued his lengthy battle for justice on Wednesday, filing a federal lawsuit (pdf) in Washington, D.C. demanding his "a legal right under FOIA" for the Department of Defense, Department of Justice, Department of State, and Department of the Treasury to provide him with pertinent information about the strike that killed his brother-in-law Salem and his nephew Waleed in 2012.

Thus far, according to human rights organization Reprieve, which is representing Jaber, the agencies have not provided "substantive responses" to FOIA requests related to the killings.

Reprieve points to the contrast between the administration's treatment of Jaber with that of a 2015 drone strike that killed an American, Warren Weinstein, and an Italian, Giovanni Lo Porto. As Common Dreams previously reported:

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."

The administration has never acknowledged the killings of Jaber's family members—though he was given "a plastic bag containing $100,000 in sequentially-marked U.S. dollar bills as a condolence payment," according to Reprieve. In 2015, Jaber filed suit in 2015 seeking only public acknowledgement that the strike was unlawful, later offering to take merely an apology—as Weinstein and Lo Porto's family were given. The U.S. government declined the settlement offer and requested a court dismiss the suit.

It was dismissed—which led Reprieve to say in a statement: "The ruling would indicate that even the most heinous war crimes by the U.S. government are beyond the reach of the U.S. Courts."

So Jaber just filed an appeal, and said in a press statement: "For years our family has asked for an apology and an explanation from the U.S. When I travel to America, ordinary Americans always apologize for what happened—it seems the only people who don't care enough to explain and apologize are the people who did it. I read the President said that the deaths of innocents cause him 'anguish'—then why will he not account for what happened to my family?"

Jaber is also among the six family members of drone strike victims profiled by the Guardian on Thursday. Spencer Ackerman writes:

Because US drone strikes are cloaked in secrecy, occur in remote or dangerous locales and target people presumed to be terrorists, Americans rarely hear from survivors or their relatives. But a theme emerges in interviews the Guardian has conducted with more than half a dozen drone survivors: the pain from the strike never ends, as the apparatus of secrecy renders closure unobtainable.

Video of Jaber from the profile is below:

Ackerman continues:

The people are left impoverished, anguished and infuriated. Justice, let alone apologies, never arrives, even as a modest amount of blood money flows from the local governments. The United States, which styles itself a force for justice in the world, is to them the remote force that introduced death into their lives and treats them like they are subhuman, fit only to be targeted. At any moment, they fear, another drone could come for them.

The Guardian exposé comes as the White House is expected to reveal how many people, including civilians, the U.S. has killed in drone strikes since Obama took office.

"As the White House prepares to release its first ever estimate of the civilian toll of the U.S. drone program," said Jennifer Gibson, staff attorney at Reprieve, "it’s crucial that we come to grips with the true extent of the collateral damage these strikes have caused. A bean-counting exercise does not tell us this. Only ensuring the voices of the victims are heard can.

"If the Obama Administration is serious about shedding light on this secret program," Gibson continued, "then the President must take down the wall of silence that has met its victims. The U.S. must put names to the numbers, and give Pakistani and Yemeni victims the same measure of respect he accorded an American and Italian—an apology. Only then can we start to come to grips with the true cost of these covert killings."

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