Yemeni Demands US Apology For Drone Strike

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A YEMENI civilian who lost two innocent relatives in a 2012 covert drone strike has written to President Obama to ask for an apology – in return for which he will drop a court case, due to be heard in Washington DC.

Faisal bin ali Jaber lost his brother-in-law – a preacher who campaigned against Al Qaeda – and his nephew, a local policeman, in a strike on the village of Kashamir in Yemen on August 29, 2012.

Jaber, an environmental engineer, was to travel to Washington DC yesterday to attend what would be the first ever US appellate court hearing in a case brought by a civilian victim of the covert drone programme. However, Jaber has written to the President to inform him that he will ‘happily drop the case in exchange for an apology,’ and acknowledgment that his brother-in-law Salem and nephew Waleed ‘were innocents, not terrorists’.

Jaber met members of Congress and Obama Administration officials in 2013, but did not receive either an explanation or apology for the strike which killed his relatives.In 2014, his family was offered $100,000 in US dollar bills in a meeting with the Yemeni National Security Bureau (NSB) – during which the Yemeni government official informed them that the money came from the US and he had been asked to pass it along.

Again, there was no acknowledgement or apology from the US. In his letter sent this weekend to the President, Jaber pointed out that ‘true accountability comes from owning up to our mistakes.’

He asked Obama to set a precedent for his successors by acknowledging the error that killed his relatives, apologising, and disclosing details of the operation that killed them so that lessons can be learned.

Jaber also requested that before leaving office, President Obama release more detailed information on civilian casualties from drone strikes, including the names of who was counted and who was not.

Commenting, Jennifer Gibson, staff attorney at international human rights organisation Reprieve which is assisting Jaber, said: ‘President Obama is right to be worried about what a Trump Administration might do with his secret drone programme.

‘But if he is serious about bringing it out of the shadows, he must stop fighting against accountability. He must own up to the hundreds of civilians that even the most conservative estimates say the programme has killed, and apologise to those that have lost their loved ones.

‘Faisal’s relatives took great risks speaking out against Al Qaeda, and trying to keep their community safe. Yet they were killed by an out of control drone programme which made appalling errors and did more harm than good. Instead of fighting Faisal in court, President Obama should simply apologise, admit his mistake, and devote the rest of his time in office to building true accountability into a programme hidden in the shadows for too long.’

Meanwhile, Saudi military aircraft reportedly pounded the Yemeni province of Sana’a for several hours on Monday, in an unprecedented wave of bombardments against the country over the past months. In the early hours of Monday, the warplanes carried out as many as 25 back-to-back airstrikes against various districts of the Yemeni capital, Sana’a, local media reported.

Taking the brunt of the attacks was the capital’s Wadi Sar District, which was struck 13 times. There have been no immediate reports of possible casualties. The assaults also hit Bani Matar District, the presidential palace and the capital’s Sabain Square, leaving two civilians dead.

Sabain Square came under attack only hours after the leader of Yemen’s Houthi Ansarullah movement, Abdul-Malik Badreddin al-Houthi, delivered a speech to a large Yemeni crowd to mark the anniversary of the birth of Prophet Muhammad.

Also on Sunday, Saudi jets targeted the city of Sa’ada in northwestern Yemen six times, killing four civilians and injuring a number of others. Riyadh’s attacks have killed at least 11,400 people in the kingdom’s impoverished neighbour since March 2015, according to the latest tally by a Yemeni monitoring group.

The Saudi campaign was launched with the aim of reinstating Yemen’s former president Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi. Hadi, a dedicated Riyadh ally, resigned last year, ignoring calls to reverse the decision and fled to the Saudi capital. He later returned to the country’s port city of Aden.

Hadi has rejected a United Nations peace roadmap, saying the initiative favours Ansarullah, a Houthi movement which has been defending the country against the Saudi invasion.

• Rights group Amnesty International has condemned as ‘shocking’ a new nine-year prison sentence against Bahrain opposition leader Sheikh Ali Salman. A nine-year prison sentence against Sheikh Salman was upheld on Monday by a Bahraini Appeal Court after a retrial, in another blow to freedom of expression in the country.

In response to the verdict Samah Hadid, Amnesty International’s Middle East Deputy Director of Campaigns, said: ‘Today’s shocking verdict is another example of Bahrain’s flagrant disregard for the right to freedom of expression. Sheikh Ali Salman is a prisoner of conscience.

‘He has been put behind bars merely for peacefully reaffirming his party’s determination to pursue power in Bahrain, to achieve the reform demands of the 2011 uprising and to hold those responsible for human rights violations to account.

‘Instead of punishing him for peaceful criticism the Bahraini authorities must order his immediate and unconditional release. The international community can no longer turn a blind eye to the Bahraini authorities’ relentless persecution of government critics and human rights activists with the sole purpose of crushing any form of peaceful dissent or opposition to the government.’

Sheikh Salman is the secretary general of the main opposition party in Bahrain, al-Wefaq national Islamic Society, which was dissolved by the Bahraini authorities in July. Following his sentencing last year, the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention also called on the Bahraini authorities to ensure Salman’s immediate release.

An initial four-year-sentence against Salman was more than doubled to nine years during the first appeal. In October, Bahrain’s Court of Cassation had rejected the extension of the sentence and ordered a retrial. UK PM Theresa May was seeking trade deals with the Gulf region during a two-day trip to Bahrain last week.

May was attending a dinner with the leaders of Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Bahrain, and Oman last Tuesday evening, before addressing the plenary session of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) on Wednesday morning.

Before her speech at the summit, May announced the establishment of the first joint UK-GCC counter-terrorism working group, with a focus on border and airport security and blocking terrorist financing.

Three UK cybersecurity experts have been appointed to advise Gulf institutions and training on countering terrorist financing. Their first workshop will take place in Qatar next week. She said: ‘No doubt there will be some people in the UK who say we shouldn’t seek stronger trade and security ties with these countries because of their record on human rights. We achieve far more by stepping up, engaging with these countries and working with them to encourage and support their plans for reform.’

This was despite a call for her to ask for child death sentences to be commuted when she attended the summit, as a number of Gulf kingdoms continue to use the death penalty against children, or threaten to do so.

All three Gulf States enjoy a close relationship with the British government, and many have received support and training from the UK for their prison and police services, despite their use of the death penalty and torture to extract false ‘confessions.’