Human rights groups urge Obama to acknowledge civilian drone strike deaths

By agency reporter
May 13, 2015

Following President Obama’s acknowledgement that a US drone strike killed an Italian and US citizen held in Pakistan, and his announcement of an independent investigation into the strike, a group of human rights organisations have urged the President to do the same for other US drone strikes in which civilians were killed.

The letter – signed by, among others, Reprieve, Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International and the American Civil Liberties Union, published on 13 May – includes details of 10 examples of US drone strikes in Yemen and Pakistan where civilians were found to have been killed. The US has never acknowledged their role in the strikes or the deaths of the civilians, or suggested it may conduct a review into what happened.

Among those included in the letter are a 2012 strike in Yemen, where investigators from the legal charity Reprieve found that an anti-al Qaeda imam, Salim bin ali Jaber, and his police officer cousin Waleed, were killed. Salim’s brother-in-law, Faisal bin ali Jaber, is now a client of Reprieve’s and is seeking answers about his relative’s death. Mr bin ali Jaber recently won the right to give evidence to a German court following revelations that military bases on German soil play a key role in the strikes.

Also included is a 2011 strike in Pakistan at a bus depot in which 24 civilians were found to have been killed, and a 2013 strike in Yemen on a wedding convoy in which at least 12 civilians were killed. Reprieve now represents families of victims from both those strikes, including Noor Khan, who brought the first case against the UK government over their role providing intelligence for the US drone programme.

As well as asking the Obama administration to "acknowledge and investigate the specific strikes included", the letter asks President Obama to "publicly disclose standards and criteria governing 'targeted killings'; ensure that US lethal force operations abroad comply with international human rights and humanitarian law; and enable meaningful congressional oversight and judicial review."

Commenting, Kat Craig, Reprieve’s legal director, said: “President Obama’s acknowledgement of US involvement in the strike that tragically killed Warren Weinstein and Giovanni Lo Porto, and his announcement of an independent inquiry, was welcome and we hope that it offered at least a little comfort to their families. But what about the families of all those other innocent people who have been killed in US drone strikes? Hundreds of civilians have been killed by covert US drone strikes in Yemen and Pakistan with absolutely no acknowledgement from the Obama administration or opportunity for redress. President Obama must now bring the drone programme out of the shadows and institute proper accountability and transparency.”

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