A Case Testing the Legality of Killing Innocents by Drone

Source: The Guardian, September 21

A Somali man has launched a legal action accusing the United States and Germany of complicity in his father’s death, claiming he was a civilian bystander killed in a US drone strike.

The man, named in court documents only as “CD,” claims that his father, a camel herder – named as “AB” – died in an attack in southern Somalia in February 2012 that targeted a former British citizen suspected of being a member of the Islamist terrorist group al-Shabaab.

Lawyers for CD, whose case is being brought forward with the help of the Open Society Justice Initiative, a charity founded by George Soros, allege Germany “plays an indispensable role in secret drone killings in Somalia” by allowing bases on its soil to be used for drone operations beyond internationally recognised war zones. They claim this makes it jointly responsible for the “unlawful covert killing.”

According to lawyers, drone strikes in Somalia are conducted by pilots in the US using remotely operated aircraft launched from Djibouti – the tiny country to Somalia’s north – but the data streams on which the drones rely are funnelled through Ramstein air base, a facility in western Germany.

Top secret presentations released by Edward Snowden, the NSA whistleblower, and published by the Intercept and Der Spiegel, cited in the court documents, revealed the crucial role played by Ramstein in the US drone campaign. It is the site of the satellite relay that connects the aircraft in the skies over the Middle East and Africa to the US drone headquarters in Creech, in the Nevada desert.

German investigative journalists cited by CD’s lawyers have reported that Ramstein’s role goes beyond serving as a passive relay, since personnel at the base also analyse the material collected by drones before it is passed to drone pilots.

In addition, his lawyers claim that the mission in which AB was allegedly killed would have been planned at US Africa command (Africom), which has its headquarters in Stuttgart.

The attack in question is believed to have targeted Mohamed Sakr, a suspected militant who was born in London. Sakr had his British citizenship revoked by the home secretary, Theresa May, in 2010 after he travelled to Somalia and allegedly joined al-Shabaab. He was reportedly killed in the strike.

Aided by the Open Society Justice Initiative, CD has lodged a criminal complaint accusing “the US and German military and secret services” of the intentional killing of Sakr, and the death of AB as a consequence….

CD’s solicitor, Natalie von Wistinghausen, told the Guardian: “One of the aims of the criminal complaint is to trigger the obligation for the prosecutor to investigate the case and to find out who are the decision takers and the ones to be held responsible for what happened on 24 February 2012 – something the victims themselves can’t do. They have no way to find out who controlled the drone and pushed the button. The pilot can see its target but the target (here an innocent civilian) is faced with an anonymous and invisible enemy.”

The court documents describe how AB, who was aged around 50, left his home with his camels early one morning. That evening, some of his camels returned but AB did not. The following morning, the documents say, CD went looking with his neighbours, and met passersby who told them about rumours that an al-Shabaab car had been targeted in an airstrike. They eventually came across the wreckage of the car, and found AB’s body in pieces, together with the bodies of several of his camels.

Amrit Singh, a senior lawyer at the Open Society Justice Initiative, said: “At issue in this case is whether states like Germany can support a secret killing program that operates outside the law while evading all accountability. It is vitally important that the courts intervene to guard against the setting of a dangerous precedent and impose lawful restraints on states that support a virtually limitless authority to kill.”

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One response to “A Case Testing the Legality of Killing Innocents by Drone

  1. Another reason why George Soros deserves the Nobel Peace Prize.