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Family of two Yemeni men sue U.S. over drone strike deaths

By
Danielle Haynes
An MQ-9 Reaper unmanned aerial vehicle comes in for a landing at Joint Base Balad, Iraq on Nov. 20, 2008. The family of two innocent men killed by a U.S. drone strike in Yemen have filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the United States. UPI/Erik Gudmundson/U.S. Air Force
An MQ-9 Reaper unmanned aerial vehicle comes in for a landing at Joint Base Balad, Iraq on Nov. 20, 2008. The family of two innocent men killed by a U.S. drone strike in Yemen have filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the United States. UPI/Erik Gudmundson/U.S. Air Force | License Photo

WASHINGTON, June 8 (UPI) -- The family of two Yemeni men killed in a U.S. drone strike in 2012 filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the United States, saying the attack "violated the laws of war."

Salem bin Ali Jaber and Waleed bin Ali Jaber were killed Aug. 29, 2012, in the village of Khashamir in Yemen's eastern Hadhramaut governorate. They were innocent bystanders when a U.S. drone strike targeted three men suspected of being terrorists.

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Waleed, a police officer, accompanied Salem, an imam, to meet with the three targets at the time of the strike, the lawsuit said.

The lawsuit argues that the three targets were killed in a so-called "signature strike." Signature strikes target and kill people based on data U.S. personnel use to assume the targets are likely terrorists.

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"It is far from clear that even those three were valid or sensible targets," the complaint says, adding that "plaintiffs are informed and believe that none were high-level, high-value targets to the United States."

The lawsuit says the three targets should have been arrested instead of killed in a drone strike.

"The three had loitered alone for a significant period before meeting with Salem and Waleed," the lawsuit says. "There is no moral or legal rationale that justifies U.S. drone operators waiting to strike until after Salem and Waleed joined the three visitors."

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The men's family also takes issue with the United States for failing to acknowledge or offer redress for the deaths of the innocent men. The lawsuit points to remarks by U.S. President Barack Obama in April regarding the deaths of two hostages -- an American and an Italian -- in a drone strike in Pakistan.

"The president has now admitted to killing innocent Americans and Italians with drones; why are the bereaves families of innocent Yemenis less entitled to the truth?" the lawsuit questions.

The United States has for years conducted drone strikes against al-Qaida militants in Yemen as part of an agreement with Yemeni President Abdo Rabu Mansour Hadi.

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A number of high-level al-Qaida figures have been killed or targeted in Yemen by U.S. drone missile strikes, though studies conducted by advocacy groups Reprieve and Human Rights Watch have found more civilians than militants have been killed by the strikes both in Yemen and Pakistan.

Recognizing that the use of drone strikes has created blowback in places like Yemen; Obama in 2013 tightened rules on the use of drones and promised more transparency.

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The lawsuit, which names the United States, Obama, former Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta, former CIA Director David Petraeus and other U.S. personnel, does not seek monetary damages. The lawsuit was filed Sunday in U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C.

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