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Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) speaks to a crowd gathered for a march to defund the Minneapolis Police Department on June 6, 2020 in Minneapolis. (Photo: Stephen Maturen/Getty Images)

Ilhan Omar Demands Pentagon Acknowledge, Compensate US Drone Strike Victims 'Illegally Killed' in Somalia

Congresswoman's call, says one rights advocate, "is an important acknowledgment that civilians unlawfully harmed have a right to redress."

Eoin Higgins

Citing obligations under international law, Rep. Ilhan Omar is calling for monetary reparations for civilian victims of U.S. drone attacks in Somalia despite the Pentagon's continued failure to acknowledge the atrocities.

"We are subject to international law and therefore compensation should be paid if someone has been illegally killed by another state," Omar told the BBC Somali Service on Thursday.

While Omar has raised objections to the U.S. military's attack on Somalia in the past, the Minnesota Democrat said she will continue efforts to ensure the U.S. military does not target and kill innocent civilians.

"Drone attacks in Somalia take place in nighttime," said Omar. "They don't kill only terrorists, but civilians as well, and families sleeping together."

Omar's office told Common Dreams on Friday that because it is already U.S. policy to pay civilian victims of drone strikes and other bombings, the congresswoman is aiming her efforts at getting the Department of Defense to acknowledge the victims of the attacks.

In May, Omar led seven of her fellow lawmakers in a letter to General Stephen J. Townsend "calling for increased transparency and public accountability of civilian causalities" from AFRICOM as the Pentagon's drone war in Africa continues. The letter asks Townsend, AFRICOM's commander, to release reports on the war's civilian casualties and to ensure the counts are accurate. 

"As you are well aware, there have long been significant discrepancies between the civilian casualty assessments of NGOs and those of the Department," the letter reads. "These differences may be explained by differing methodologies and access to classified intelligence; however, when reporting comes from credible and sophisticated NGOs with cultural and linguistic capacity, civilian casualty reports are not easily dismissed."

According to the Daily Beast:

As the congressional letter notes, AFRICOM has not explained how it investigates civilian casualty claims, saying for security concerns it cannot go into detail about its methodology.  Amnesty International has found the U.S. military does not speak to witnesses, family members, friends or colleagues of the deceased even when their contact information has been shared.

The disconnect between the government and observer counts of the casualties of the attacks struck Allegra Harpootlian, ReThink Drones newsletter author, as an example of the the way the U.S. military thinks of its victims.

"The fact that we rarely make amends when we kill innocent people will never not be mind-blowing to me," Harpootlian tweeted.

Priyanka Motaparthy, director of the Project on Armed Conflict, Counterterrorism, and Human Rights at Columbia Law School's Human Rights Institute, told Common Dreams that the human cost of U.S. military action is exactly why Omar's comments are so important.

"U.S. drone strikes in Somalia that kill civilians leave behind families mourning their loved ones' deaths," said Motaparthy. "Yet almost none of these families have received answers about how or why their relatives were killed, let alone compensation for their loss."

"Rep. Omar's call for accountability and compensation is an important acknowledgment that civilians unlawfully harmed have a right to redress," she added.

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