Buying absolution for drone murders

It used to be that in the Catholic Church, one could buy indulgences to provide absolution for one’s sins, giving an advantage to rich people trying to get to heaven. Although the church has discontinued that deplorable practice, the US government still seems to believe in it. Cora Currier writes that the US government makes secret payments to the relatives of civilian victims of its drone strikes while publicly maintaining that the dead are militants.

She gives one story.

A Yemeni family was paid $100,000 for the death of relatives in a U.S. drone strike in 2012, according to a remarkable story yesterday from Yahoo News. Faisal bin Ali Jaber, a 56-year-old who works at Yemen’s environmental agency, has been on a mission to find out why his innocent nephew and brother-in-law were killed in a strike that also took out three suspected militants. He made it to Washington D.C. last fall, he told journalist Michael Isikoff, where he met with two White House national security aides. They listened, but said little in response.

Then, this summer, Jaber was given a bag of “freshly minted” bills by a Yemeni security official. The money, he was told, came from the U.S. government.

Why this reticence to publicly acknowledge the payoff?

The Defense Department told me last year that it does not make payments in Yemen, and Central Command refused to release documents on the topic that I had requested. Of course, their denial may be semantic – per Jaber’s account, Yemeni officials make the payments, with mysteriously large and pristine piles of U.S. cash. (Both the CIA and military operate drones in Yemen. Isikoff writes that the strike that killed Jaber’s relatives was CIA.)

The reticence may also reflect that the U.S. is loath to admit whom it considers a terrorist target, and whom a civilian. In a detailed account of the wedding party strike published this summer, Buzzfeed’s Gregory Johnsen suggested that leaving the money with the Yemeni government allows “the U.S. the wiggle room to have it both ways, counting the dead as militants while paying for them like civilians.”

The glorious ‘war on terror’ is also a war on truth and honesty. The US has only one thing going for it and that is its ability to strew money around to cover up its faults. As Jaber told Isikoff, “One thinks the U.S. believes it can silence the families of the victims with money” rather than “an apology [for the drone strike] and an explanation.”


  1. Pierce R. Butler says

    From what little I know of Yemen, the most surprising part of this story is that there was anything left in the bag by the time it reached Jaber’s hands.

  2. says

    A Yemeni family was paid $100,000 for the death of relatives in a U.S. drone strike in 2012

    Maybe Obama can use the money he got with the Nobel Peace Prize.
    Oh, wait – there’s not enough.

  3. busterggi says

    The RCC still sells indulgences, just look at Newt Ginghich. They just don’t give a hardcopy anymore.

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