US to 'Compensate' Family of Italian Drone Victim—Will Non-Western Victims See Same?

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US to 'Compensate' Family of Italian Drone Victim—Will Non-Western Victims See Same?

'Cash payouts are no substitute for genuine transparency,' says human rights group Reprieve

President Barack Obama announced last year that 2015 CIA drone strikes in Pakistan had killed two hostages being held by Al Qaeda—Warren Weinstein, an American, and Giovanni Lo Porto, an Italian. (Photo: AFP/Getty)

The Obama administration is reportedly offering a "condolence payment" of $1.32 million to the family of Giovanni Lo Porto, the Italian aid worker killed in a CIA drone strike in Pakistan last year, renewing questions about the lack of accountability for the U.S. drone program.

According to the Guardian on Friday, the $1.32 million "is the first known and documented payment of its kind made by the U.S. government to the family of a drone-strike victim killed outside a declared warzone."

"Why won't the U.S. government come clean and apologize to all the civilians, including non-Westerners, wrongly killed by the misguided drone program?"
—Jennifer Gibson, Reprieve

The details of the arrangement were first reported by Italian newspaper La Repubblica.

The Intercept reported in July that such a settlement had been reached, coming "in the form of an 'ex gratia' payment—essentially a gesture of condolence—from the U.S. government to Lo Porto's parents and brothers, who live in Italy. There is no admission of wrongdoing, and it leaves the family free to pursue other legal action in the future. The government also did not disclose any further details about the strike."

The Guardian confirmed on Friday that the agreement includes this stipulation: "This does not imply the consent by the United States of America to the exercise of the jurisdiction of the Italian courts in disputes, if any, directly or indirectly connected with this instrument. Nothing in this instrument implies a waiver to sovereign or personal immunity."

In turn, a lawyer representing the Lo Porto family told La Repubblica, "After this money, the family seems to have even fewer roads to find out what exactly happened and what were the mistakes that led to the death of their relative."

Furthermore, said Jennifer Gibson of the human rights group Reprieve, "[c]ash payouts are no substitute for genuine transparency. Why won't the U.S. government come clean and apologize to all the civilians, including non-Westerners, wrongly killed by the misguided drone program?"

"I think at this point there is no indication that this goes beyond the compensation of a western hostage killed in a drone strike," Gibson told the Guardian on Friday. "The Lo Porto and [Warren] Weinstein families are the only families that have been acknowledged and apologized to by the administration. Thus far there hasn’t been a single Pakistani or Yemeni family that has received the same acknowledgment."

She pointed to "many more civilian victims who have yet to receive a public apology—notably Faisal bin ali Jaber, who lost two innocent relatives to a drone strike in Yemen."

While Faisal's relatives were reportedly in 2014 given "a plastic bag containing $100,000 in sequentially-marked U.S. dollar bills as a condolence payment," the Obama administration has refused to formally apologize to Faisal or acknowledge the killing, Common Dreams reported.

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As the ACLU wrote in 2015:

[T]he contrast between the administration's response to the deaths of these Western—and white—civilians and those of the many hundreds of non-Western civilians who have died in the administration's lethal force program is stark and glaring. No other victim's family has received official acknowledgement and an apology, let alone been promised an investigation or compensation.

That's fundamentally unfair, and it increases the hostility against the United States in countries where the CIA and the Pentagon carry out their lethal strikes.

"[T]here should be no distinction," the civil liberties group said at the time, "between the government's response to the killings of Western and non-Western civilians."

Hina Shamsi, director of the ACLU's National Security Project, "re-upped" that post in response to Friday's news.

Others similarly weighed in on social media:

Earlier this summer, the Obama administration released a report claiming that U.S. drone strikes have killed between 64 and 116 civilians in areas outside of active hostilities. Critics blasted the disclosure, saying it was "so limited as to be virtually meaningless."

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