For the first time ever, the victim of an apparent American drone strike got a hearing in a U.S. court.
An environmental engineer from Yemen who lost two relatives is asking a judge to declare the attack "unlawful."
Faisal bin Ali Jaber still has a hard time even talking about the drone strike in Yemen in 2012 that killed his brother-in-law and his nephew. By all accounts, both were innocent civilians who had nothing to do with terror.
Jaber looked somewhat lost outside U.S. District Court, where he's asking three appellate judges to rule there are limits to the president's power to order drone strikes that kill innocent bystanders.
“We all agree the president has the right to take action against terrorists,” said his lawyer, Jeffrey Robinson. “We also all agree that the president does not have the authority to massacre civilians.”
Jaber's brother-in-law, Salem Ahmed bin Ali Jaber, and nephew, Waleed Abdullah, a police officer, were killed in the attack on a small village in Yemen. Salem Jaber was a cleric who'd spoken out against Al Qaeda. He and Abdullah were arguing with three angry terrorists when a volley of remotely operated missiles incinerated all five of them -- as well as a camel that was tied up nearby.
Jaber choked up as he remembered their deaths. Yemeni officials gave his family $100,000 -- and told them it came from the U.S.
“This is a bad message for my family,” said Jaber. “Because they paid under the table, this means they tell us your blood is so cheap, I can pay you the money, and you will keep silent. No! This is very bad.”
Rather than hurt al Qaeda, Jaber said the drone strike actually helped it. “One hundred percent.” The attack, he said, helped the terrorists recruit more villagers.
Jaber has offered to drop his lawsuit if the White House simply apologizes for the deaths of his relatives. President Obama did apologize eight months ago, when a missile killed two Western hostages in Pakistan. One of the victims was Warren Weinstein of Rockville.
But the U.S. so far has refused to even publically acknowledge the deaths in Yemen. The Justice Department maintains that courts simply do not have the expertise to assess the merits of the president's decisions to launch an attack on foreign soil.