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Sibylle Bandler

Planned in US, operated in Germany, killed in Yemen

The US is under increasing criticism for its use of drones [Christian Sciene Monitor]

Date of publication: 23 April, 2015

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Comment: A Yemeni man says a US drone that killed his relatives was operated out of Germany. Berlin denies any role, but evidence suggests otherwise, says Sibylle Bandler.

On Wednesday, a German court said it would hear evidence from a Yemeni man who is suing the federal republic for the death of two of his relatives in a US drone attack. 

Faisal bin Ali Jaber will be the first victim to present evidence to a court in a country that provides support for the US drone programme.

Jaber's bid comes after Brandon Bryant, a former drone pilot, offered evidence in October on the use of Ramstein, a US airbase in Germany, for drone operations in Africa, Yemen and Pakistan.

Jaber is supported by the human rights organisation Reprieve and the European centre for constitutional human rights in his legal battle.

He argues that the German government is liable for the deaths of his nephew and brother-in-law as it allows Washington to use the Ramstein air base for drone operations in Yemen.

"This is a crucial step in efforts to gain accountability for the civilian victims of secret US drone strikes," said Kat Craig, the legal director at Reprieve representing Jaber in court.

"It also highlights that the US is not alone in this campaign. Support is quietly provided by allies including Germany and the UK… this not only unacceptable, but deeply counterproductive.

"Not only are [drones] killing civilians, they have even killed the very people who should be our allies in fighting extremism," Craig added.

The drone attack that killed Jaber's relatives was supposed to have targeted al-Qaeda members. One of the dead was an imam who had spoken out against the militants.

     Not only are [drones] killing civilians, they have even killed the very people who should be our allies in fighting extremism.
Kat Craig, Reprieve


Both the US magazine The Intercept and Germany’s Der Spiegel have uncovered evidence that points to Ramstein being used as crucial interface in Washington’s global drone war.

This coincided with the first meeting between the German defence minister, Ursula von der Leyen,  and her US counterpart Ashton Carter in Washington.

The subject of drones was not on the agenda, and a German government stated that the issue would be discussed by "relevant agencies on different channels".

Berlin said it had received repeated assurances from the US that German air force bases were not being used for remote drone operations, and had no knowledge to the contrary. Therefore, there was nothing to discuss.

Pleading ignorance

But how long Berlin can continue to plead ignorance remains to be seen. A German parliamentary committee investigating a spy scandal involving the US National Security Agency has already requested documents for review.

It intends to take up the latest drone revelations alongside its original mission.

In particular, it wants to investigate the role of the US command centre, Africom, based in Stuttgart, as well as Ramstein to see what the government knew about US drones operating from German soil.

Evidence is building that suggests Berlin is well aware of what was happening.

Chief among this is a written communication between the German government and US department of defence on 18 November 2011, and cited in the Intercept-Spiegel report.

In it, the US defence department informed its German counterparts that it planned to build a $6.5m UAS Satcom facility at Ramstein.

     It is shameful that the German government simply closes its eyes to violations of international law on German territory.
Green party foreign policy spokesman


The elaborate acronym masks a central component of Washington's drone war - such as facility transmits pictures and data from drone cameras, close to real-time, back to the United States.

Without it, valuable seconds in complex drone operations would be lost the targets could escape the drone's missiles.

The document is written in a pressing tone and leaves little room for ambiguity. 

The project, the Pentagon writes, is of "very high priority" and will contribute to the creation of a unique control centre for its Predator, Reaper, and Global Hawk drones. 

Meanwhile, the role of Germany's federal intelligence service, known as the BDA, is also under scrutiny.

The service is under the direct control of Chancellor Angela Merkel's office and has close ties to the CIA.

Yet it, too, denies any knowledge that Ramstein has been an integral part of Washington's drone war.

Germany's Green Party has called on the country's constitutional court to investigate, and its foreign policy spokesman Omid Nouripour urged action: "It is shameful that the German government simply closes its eyes to violations of international law on German territory."

Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of al-Araby al-Jadeed, its editorial board or staff.

 

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