The family of two U.S. drone victims is refusing to keep their pain silent as they seek an official apology by U.S. President Barack Obama for the deaths of their kin.
In a CNN op-ed published on Friday, Faisal bin Ali Jaber, a Yemeni civil engineer, issued a public challenge to the U.S. leader—who recently made public statements about the deaths of two westerners killed by U.S. drone strikes, but has refused to acknowledge Yemeni civilian casualties.
“What is the value of a human life?” Jaber asks.
In the column, Jaber describes how following the August 2012 strike that killed Waleed and Salem bin Ali Jaber, the family had to identify them “from their clothes and scraps of matted hair.”
And how in the wake of the strike, while the family awaited an official apology, they were instead presented with “$100,000 in sequentially-marked U.S. dollars in a plastic bag.”
Jaber writes: “A Yemeni security service official was given the unpleasant task of handing this over. I looked him in the eye and asked how this was acceptable, and whether he would admit the money came from America. He shrugged and said: ‘Can’t tell you. Take the money.'”
“The secret payment to my family represents a fraction of the cost of the operation that killed them,” he continues. “This seems to be the Obama administration’s cold calculation: Yemeni lives are cheap. They cost the President no political or moral capital.”
In contrast to the experience of Jaber and other relatives of innocent Yemenis killed by the U.S. drone war, in April, Obama publicly acknowledged that a U.S. counterterrorism operation had killed an American, Warren Weinstein, and an Italian, Giovanni Lo Porto. The lawsuit follows another failed court challenge in Germany in which Jaber’s family sought to prosecute the home of Ramstein Air Base for its role in “facilitating American covert drone strikes in Yemen.”
“Like a lot of Americans, my family and I watched the President’s speech at home,” Jaber writes. “But while many praised him for his forthrightness, we do not share that view. His speech shocked us. No, it was worse: his speech broke our hearts.
“As I watched,” he continues, “I thought of my dead relatives, names that so far as I know have never crossed the President’s lips: Waleed and Salem bin Ali Jaber.”
On Monday, Jaber filed a suit asking a Washington D.C. district court to issue a declaration that the strike that killed Salem and Waleed was unlawful. He is seeking no monetary compensation.
“Imagine that your loved one was wrongly killed by the U.S. government, and the White House would not apologize. Imagine they would not even admit their role in the death of your family members,” Jaber concludes. “We simply want the truth and an apology. We will not rest until it is ours.”