Son lodges action against Germany & US over father’s alleged drone killing
A Somali man has launched a legal action accusing the United States andGermany 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’s 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.
In a parallel civil complaint, CD alleges that the German government violated the country’s constitution and Nato rules when it allowed its territory to be used for the US military facilities and seeks an official declaration of this allegation.
The German military and US embassy in Berlin declined to comment on active legal proceedings.
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 programme 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.”
The case is the latest in a series of legal challenges against Germany over its alleged complicity in US drone strikes. In 2013, the German prosecutor general ended an investigation into a German fighter’s death in a Pakistan strike on the grounds that he was an enemy combatant in an ongoing conflict, and so a legitimate target.
In a separate case brought by the legal charity Reprieve, a Yemeni man, Faisal bin Ali Jaber claimed that by allowing the US to use Ramstein for strikes, the German government was jointly responsible for the deaths in a drone strike of his brother, a preacher, and nephew. The court rejected the case in June, saying it would force it to breach the separation of powers, but allowed Jaber to appeal.
In the UK, Reprieve launched a case in 2012 on behalf of a Pakistani man whose father had been killed in a drone strike in Pakistan, claiming that GCHQ shared information on the location of targets with the CIA. The case was rejected on the grounds that an eventual judgment could be viewed as “condemnation of the US” by the court.
A UK drone strike in Syria faces a legal challenge of its own, as campaign group Rights Watch (UK) announced plans to launch a judicial review of the government’s refusal to publish its legal basis for the strike.
Singh said of CD’s case: “This case is profoundly important not only for Germany but also for other governments like the UK that conduct their own drone strikes or collaborate in US drone strikes outside traditional battlefields.”