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German court case centers on Ramstein's possible role in drone attack

By JENNIFER H. SVAN AND MARCUS KLOECKNER | STARS AND STRIPES Published: May 26, 2015

KAISERSLAUTERN, Germany — A German court hearing slated for Wednesday in Cologne is expected to highlight the critical role that the U.S. military’s Ramstein Air Base allegedly plays in U.S. drone strikes and could bolster calls for an end to that mission on German soil.

At issue is whether the German government should be held accountable for the 2012 deaths of two civilians in Yemen from U.S. drone strikes.

While drones are not piloted from Ramstein, the base is alleged to play a critical role in the U.S. drone war. The Intercept website reported in April — citing top-secret intelligence documents — that Ramstein is the site of a satellite relay station that enables drone operators in Nevada to communicate with their remotely-piloted aircraft in Yemen, Somalia, Afghanistan and other targeted countries.

The case, brought against the German government by the victims’ family, could set a precedent for the way foreign governments support U.S. drone strikes.

Faisai bin Ali Jaber says his brother-in-law, Salim bin Ali Jaber, an imam, and his nephew, Walid, a police officer, were killed in a strike on the village of Khashamir on Aug. 29, 2012, according to media reports. Three suspected al-Qaida members also were killed in the strike, Al Jazeera reported on its website Monday. It said Salim Ali Jaber preached against al-Qaida. Faisal bin Ali Jaber wants Germany to accept responsibility for the U.S. drone war in Yemen and to ban the use of Ramstein for such operations, according to The Guardian.

The U.S. drone program, run by the CIA and U.S. military, has been mired in controversy for its killing of untold innocent victims while targeting suspected terrorists.

Ali Jaber is being represented by the London-based international human rights organization Reprieve and lawyers from the Berlin-based European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights, according to The Guardian.

Kat Craig, a lawyer for Reprieve, told Al Jazeera that the hearing was “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.”

The Intercept report said the German Defense Ministry response to the case on behalf of the government, filed in January, denied “that the air base is a fundamental hub for the data transfer necessary to operate unmanned aerial vehicles in Yemen.”

The government further stated that it could not be expected to act “as a ‘global public prosecutor’ towards other sovereign states and punish alleged infringements outside of their own sovereign territory,” the Intercept reported.

A spokeswoman for U.S. Air Forces in Europe said the Air Force in Germany manages all base activities in accordance with agreements between the U.S. and German governments.

The Air and Space Operations Center at Ramstein “conducts operational level planning, monitoring and assessment of assigned airpower missions throughout Europe and Africa, but does not directly fly or control any manned or remotely piloted aircraft,” Maj. Sheryll Klinkel said.

In 2011, the Air Force was awaiting $10.8 million in funding approval from Congress for an unmanned aircraft system satellite communications relay compound.

This isn’t the first case in which a German court has dealt with the legality of its government’s role in the drone war. Wolfgang Jung, a German activist who lives in Kaiserslautern, and his lawyers have argued twice in court that Ramstein’s role in the drone program is in violation of international law. Courts in Cologne and Münster have rejected the case, however, saying he had no standing to make the claim.

The case is now before Germany’s federal administrative court in Leipzig.

Similar arguments have so far failed in other countries. Courts in the United Kingdom rejected Noor Khan’s legal suit against the U.K. for providing intelligence that led to a drone strike that killed his father and countless others in Pakistan’s North Waziristan region in March 2011.

svan.jennifer@stripes.com

kloeckner.marcus@stripes.com

 

An MQ-9 Reaper taxis during an operations check in preparation for Emerald Warrior 2015 at Hurlburt Field, Fla., April 18, 2015.
JAMAL D. SUTTER/U.S. AIR FORCE

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