A German court is set to hear testimony on Wednesday from the family of two Yemeni civilian drone strike victims, in a trial that could set a precedent for international governments participating in the United States’ global "war on terrorism."
Faisal bin Ali Jaber's brother-in-law Salim bin Ali Jaber, 43, an imam who had preached against Al-Qaeda, and his nephew, Walid bin Ali Jaber, 26, were killed along with three alleged Al-Qaeda fighters in Yemen’s southeast on Aug. 29, 2012. At the time, Bin Ali Jaber’s family members were reportedly trying to convince the armed fighters to abandon militancy.
Faisal bin Ali Jaber is scheduled to testify at the administrative court in the German city of Cologne, which will open a trial to assess Berlin’s alleged role in the U.S. drone program. But he will be unable to make the trip due to travel restrictions in Yemen, where a Saudi Arabia-led coalition is attempting to quell a rebellion by Shia Houthi fighters. Instead, Faisal's testimony will be read before the court.
The hearing follows a report from news website The Intercept, based on a leaked intelligence document, confirming that the U.S. military’s Ramstein Air Base in western Germany has been the site of a “satellite relay station that enables drone operators in the American Southwest” to connect with drones in “targeted countries,” including Yemen.
President Barack Obama and German officials had previously denied that Germany has played such a role in U.S. drone operations. But recent revelations have resulted in the pending indictment of Berlin’s complicity in the program. Germany's Foreign Office did not respond to a request for comment from Al Jazeera.
Ali Jaber’s attorney is optimistic that the trial will help her battle against the drone program.
“I’m confident that between the court and the German people, [this trial] will progress the debate hopefully to end the deaths of people like [Faisal’s relatives] Salim and Walid, who we should be working with, instead of executing,” Kat Craig, a lawyer with Reprieve, an international human rights advocacy group, told Al Jazeera.
Reprieve had called on German courts to review allegations of Germany’s involvement in the program prior to The Intercept's article. The hearing "is a result of our successfully having plead our case to the extent that the court was not willing to acquiesce to the government's request that the case be dismissed outright," said Craig. Attorney's representing Berlin have argued the case would force German judges to weigh in on other sovereign nations, The Intercept reported in April.
Although statements from relatives of drone victims have been previously submitted to a British court, Craig says that on a court will physically “hear evidence from a drone victim” for the first time, if only read aloud by a third party. The trial itself is “a big step in the accountability of U.S. allies in the ‘war on terror,’” said Craig, who hopes the hearing will mark “the start of other countries increasingly questioning themselves and questioning their commitment to the U.S. when the U.S. fails to be rigorous itself in its human rights record.”
Germany’s Foreign Office did not respond to a request for comment from Al Jazeera.
Reprieve believes Washington has already recognized its role in the killing of Faisal bin Ali Jaber's relatives. The organization reported in July 2014 that he had received roughly $100,000 in what it said was blood money from the U.S., paid indirectly through local Yemeni authorities. The bank transfers, seen by Al Jazeera, were lacking signatures from creditors.
Faisal bin Ali Jaber isn't seeking damages for Germany's potential role in his relatives' deaths, Craig said. Instead, his claim is a “forward-looking one": He hopes German judicial officials will recognize that under its own constitution, “Germany has a responsibility to prevent lives from being taken.” Article 2 of Germany’s Basic Law maintains that “every person shall have the right to life and physical integrity,” Craig noted.