Drone War: German Court Throws Out Case by Family of Slain Yeminis

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By Andy Eckardt

MAINZ, Germany — A German court has thrown out a case brought by relatives of two Yemenis allegedly killed in a U.S. drone strike, saying the government is not required to stop such attacks.

“The German government is not required to deny the United States use of Ramstein Air Base for the execution of drone attacks in Yemen,” according to a statement issued by Cologne administrative court posted on its website Wednesday. A court spokesman told NBC News that the ruling was not confirming that drone attacks were being coordinated from the base.

The case brought by relatives of Salim bin Ali Jaber and Walid Abdullah bin Ali Jaber, who purportedly died in a U.S. drone strike on Aug. 29, 2012 in Yemen. Three members of the Jaber family were calling for the government of Chancellor Angela Merkel to accept legal and political responsibility for the deaths, and condemn the use of Ramstein to coordinate the attacks.

Campaigners immediately criticized the decision.

“Today’s decision allows the German government to continue to play the innocent,” said Wolfgang Kaleck of the European Center for Constitutional Rights (ECCHR), which worked with the Jaber legal team.

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"See nothing, hear nothing, say nothing — with this strategy the [German] government cannot and will not be able to meet its obligation to prevent human rights violations committed by the U.S.A. via German territory," he said. "On the contrary, with this approach Germany is making itself complicit in the deaths of civilians as part of the U.S. drone war.”

An image provided by the U.S. Air Force shows a MQ-1 Predator unmanned aircraft.U.S. Air Force via Reuters

The ECCHR maintains the U.S. is using Ramstein base in southwestern Germany “as a relay point for satellite data on drones, that its operators assess real-time drone images and assist the pilots in carrying out the targeted killings.”

The claimants were considering lodging an appeal, according to a statement released by campaigning organization Reprieve.

In 2013, President Barack Obama addressed the issue during a visit to Berlin, and said the U.S. is "not using Germany as a launching point for unmanned drones” as part of its counterterrorism activities.

However, several German publications have reported that Ramstein is essential to American drone operations.

In April, the Open Society Foundation, a human rights organization, published a 128-page report entitled “Death by Drone," highlighting alleged civilian casualties caused by U.S. drone strikes in Yemen.

"The U.S. has not officially acknowledged any of these strikes or the resulting civilian casualties. None of the victims are aware of any investigation into the strikes, and in most cases did not receive meaningful compensation," according to the report. "Many survivors argue that the strikes are counterproductive, pushing Yemenis into the arms of al Qaeda."

The U.S.'s alleged use of deadly drone strikes, and the potential support or at least toleration by the German government, are very controversial in Germany.

The killing of a human being is illegal under international law, unless it occurs among belligerents in an official armed conflict or as a consequence of self-defense.

“If a suicide bomber is approaching the gates of a U.S. military base with the intention to explode his bomb, then a targeted killing might be justified,” said Bjoern Schiffbauer an expert in international law at Cologne University. “But there is no legal basis for the assassination of a terror suspect who is having dinner with his family at his home."