Abdulrahman al-Awlaki was a typical American boy who, in his grandfather's words, "watched 'The Simpsons,' listened to Snoop Dogg, read 'Harry Potter' and had a Facebook page with many friends. He had a mop of curly hair, glasses... and a wide goofy smile." Born in Denver, CO, Abdulrahman moved to Yemen when he was seven to live with his grandparents.
Abdulrahman's father, Anwar, was an Islamist preacher with dubious alleged ties to terrorist plots. In 2009, Anwar, whose sermons had incurred the ire of the United States government, went into hiding to protect himself and his family. By September 2011, Abdulrahman, a 16-year-old teenager by then, had not seen his father in two years. So Abdulrahman went looking for him.
Abdulrahman's search brought him from his grandparent's home in Sana to his cousins' in southern Yemen. However, Abdulrahman's father was not there. In fact, Anwar al-Awlaki was in a northern Yemeni province hundreds of miles away. There, he was killed by an American drone strike on September 20, 2011, without any due process or even charges filed against him and shortly after Abdulrahman had begun to look for him.
Abdulrahman heard the news of his father's death shortly after it happened. He called his grandparents to let them know that, no longer having a purpose for being away from home, he would return as soon as he could - he just had to wait for fighting on the roads from his cousins' house to Sana to dissipate so travel would be safe.
But Abdulrahman never made it home. That phone was the last time his family ever heard his voice. On October 15, 2011, Abdulrahman, his cousin, and several friends were eating dinner at an outdoor restaurant when an American drone strike killed all of them. In total, 9 civilians were killed. Abdulrahman's body was mutilated; he was only identifiable by a scalp wearing his distinctive curly hair.
The Obama Administration has never given an explanation as to why Abdulrahman was targeted. Initially, it refused to acknowledge the drone strike had occurred. After the Awlaki family and journalists forced the Administration's hand to win recognition of Abdulrahman's death as the result of an American drone strike, the Obama Administration claimed Abdulrahman was 21-years-old. This was quickly disproven by Awlakis, who released Abdulrahman's birth certificate. The government then claimed Abdulrahman had been meeting with the Egyptian al-Qaeda member Ibrahim al-Banna. The US has never released any evidence to indicate why this could have been the case, though it clearly was not given that al-Banna's body was not among the dead.
Ultimately, the most substantial reason any member of the Obama Administration ever provided for Abdulrahman al-Awlaki's targeting comes from former White House Press Secretary and senior advisor to Obama's reelection campaign Robert Gibbs, who told reporters, "I would suggest that [Anwar al-Awlaki] should have [been] a far more responsible father if [he was] truly concerned about the well being of [his son]. I don't think becoming an al Qaeda jihadist terrorist is the best way to go about doing your business.
Mamana Bibi lived in rural northern Pakistan. She was a midwife and had delivered hundreds of babies in her community. She was a wife and was married to the retired headmaster of the local school. She was a matriarch and was the mother of two and grandmother of nine.
American drones had been in the air above Mamana Bibi's village for several days prior to October 24, 2012. It was not unusual for drones to be present in the area, nor has it become unusual since Mamana's death. Though her and her family were not connected to the Taliban, Mamana Bibi's community had many members of the Taliban living in and around it. The Taliban used and continues to use force to get their way with the locals and the Pakistani government fails to provide meaningful assistance. This Taliban presence provided, and continues to provide, a justification for US drones in the area.
On the afternoon of October 24, 2012, Mamana Bibi was in the fields outside her house harvesting okra for dinner and gathering wood for the upcoming festival of Eid al-Adha. She was joined by her grandchildren, who ranged in age from five to 17 and were engaged in various activities: playing, working the fields, returning home from school. No one was paying attention to the drones hovering overhead in the clear blue, skies. They were treated as a normal part of the environment.
While Mamana and her grandchildren were in the fields, the drones fired at least two Hellfire missiles at her. Mamana was killed instantly. Her body was picked up, thrown many feet away, and mutilated. Three of her grandchildren were injured as well, with one requiring a long and expensive trip to Islamabad to receive specialist treatment.
The physical wounds suffered by those at the blast site were not the only ones Mamana's family received. Her husband has been grief stricken and mentally ill since her death - he now spends his days in his house crying about his dead wife. Mamana's seven-year-old granddaughter Asma has begun jumping into her father's arms talking about how she will be killed by the drones. Mamana's grandson Zubair is afraid of going outside for any reason, even just to play soccer. Much of the family lives in constant fear of the drones that remain overhead.
No explanation has ever been offered to Mamana Bibi's family as to why she was killed. At one point, the Pakistani government claimed a Taliban fighter had made a call on a cell phone from a nearby road, but the nearest road to where Mamana Bibi was killed was nearly 1,000 ft. away, not close enough to make her suspect as a result of any call from it. Some Pakistani press accounts reported the drone had targeted a house and killed five Taliban militants, yet Mamana Bibi was the only person to die, everyone else in the immediate area was a child, and they were all standing in a field without a house. The Obama Administration, for its part, will not even acknowledge it carried out a drone strike, though the Pakistani government has confirmed to Mamana's son, Rafiq, that the US was responsible.
Mamana Bibi's family has received no compensation for their loss or assistance with the injuries of those who survived the strike from either the United States or Pakistani governments.
Giovanni Lo Porto was born in 1977, the fourth of five children in a working-class Italian family. He dropped out of high school when he was 16, though he eventually took night classes en route to becoming the first person in his family to graduate from college. Giovanni is universally described as a peace loving man dedicated to helping those in need.
After traveling to the Balkans to work in the construction industry, Giovanni grew interested in aid work. This interest took him around the world to places suffering from both human-made and natural disasters, including Haiti, Myanmar, the Central African Republic, and, in late 2012, Pakistan, where he began a job with the German food relief and development non-profit Welthungerhilfe.
Giovanni and a co-worker, Bernd Muhlenbeck, were kidnapped by an unknown group less than a week into his time in Pakistan. He was held together with Muhlenbeck for a year before the two were separated. Muhlenbeck was released shortly thereafter, while Giovanni found himself in the hands of al-Qaeda along with an American aid worker, Warren Weinstein.
In January 2015, the CIA carried out a drone strike on the al-Qaeda compound where Giovanni and Warren Weinstein were being held. Both of them were killed alongside four al-Qaeda operatives.
The Obama Administrations claims there was no evidence before the drone strike indicating the al-Qaeda compound housed anyone other than militants. It says the CIA only realized its mistake after surveillance footage investigating the aftermath of the strike showed two more graves than expected. However, this claim has been disputed by highly credible sources. The CIA's inspector general, for example, found in a review of the agency that there had been plausible, though ignored, leads that Warren was being held in the compound. Officials told the Washington Post that unidentified senior lawmakers believed Obama and the CIA did not fulfill their promise to do everything they could to find Warren, a failure that directly led to Warren as well as Giovanni's deaths.
Despite President Barack Obama publicly referring to Giovanni Lo Porto and Warren Weinstein's deaths as "mistakes," Giovanni's family has not received any compensation for his death, or have they received any substantial explanation as to why Giovanni Lo Porto was killed. The Weinstein family has been in direct contact with the US government and received compensation for Warren Weinstein's death, though his wife has said has said members of the government "inconsistent and disappointing over the course of [the] 3½ years [Warren was in al-Qaeda captivity]."
The people profiled above have not been the only victims of President Obama's drone program. American drones have claimed thousands of casualties in a variety of countries, including Iraq, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Yemen, Libya, and Somalia. However, the exact number of these casualties will probably never be known - the Obama Administration almost always refuses to recognize when it carries out a drone strike, just as it has refused to recognize the drone strikes that killed Abdulrahman al-Awlaki and Mamana Bibi.
What is sure, however, is that, like those profiled above, many, if not most, drone victims are innocent of any crime whatsoever. This is a hard fact for President Obama to deny considering that, in many cases, he has little idea who his victims are. In many of these cases, the victims are targets of so-called "signature" and "follow-up" strikes.
In signature strikes, drone operators target individuals based on what American intelligence officials consider to be "suspicious" behaviors. This behavior is typically "suspicious" electronics signals. For example, intelligence officials may track the metadata of a particular phone and decide it's making calls to other phones they consider suspect, regardless of whether or not officials know the identity of any of the actual parties to the conversations.
In follow-up strikes, drone operators target individuals who respond to the scene of a drone strike. Such individuals, while sometimes militants also often include legally protected medical first-responders arriving to treat injuries and civilian non-combatants trying to figure out what has happened.
The effects of drone strikes, beyond the deaths they have caused, have been catastrophic in drone affected areas, particularly northern Pakistan. There, people live in constant fear of being bombed by drones, fear that is quite credible given the existence of signature and follow-up strikes. This fear has torn apart communal life. People no longer go outside without reason, and especially avoid doing so in large groups. Mosques have become scary places - worshipers are constantly worried drone operators will not be able to tell them apart from Taliban or al-Qaeda operatives. Children have become particularly paranoid, often running under their beds or into their parents' arms when they hear drones overhead, which is often. As one person told Amnesty International, "Everyone is scared and they can't get out of their house without any tension from the fear of drone attacks. People are mentally disturbed as a result of the drone flights... We can't sleep because of the planes' loud sound. Even if they don't attack we will have the fear of attack in our mind."
It is impossible for the targets of drone strikes to defend themselves against attacks. Targets the Obama Administration is looking for in particular are kept on a secret "kill list." The secrecy of this list prevents these targets from taking appropriate safety precautions or providing American officials with exculpatory evidence allowing them to be removed from the list. It is even more difficult for an individual to protect themselves against signature strikes, which often target innocent people based on mistaken intelligence.
In the event a drone target survives or sees a drone before an attack, it is impossible for them to surrender as they would against traditional military forces: there is no drone pilot to whom one can turn themselves over. Survivors of the initial strike often die from their wounds because medical first-responders will not approach them due to fear of follow-up strikes.
President Barack Obama is directly responsible for drone strike deaths and the atmosphere of terror drones induce. As he has stated publicly numerous times, President Obama is highly involved in choosing drone targets and personally signs off on many of the strikes.
In light of the available evidence as it is laid out above, the War Crimes Project believes there is substantial information for a Federal Attorney to prosecute President Barack Obama with war crimes under the War Crimes Act of 1996. Specifically, President Obama violated 18 U.S. Code § 2441 (c)(2) and 18 U.S. Code § 2441 (c)(3) by violating the Laws and Customs of War on Land (Hague Conventions IV of 1907) and by committing grave breaches of common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions as defined in 18 U.S. Code § 2441 (d), respectively, in the following ways:
- Violating Art. 23 of Hague IV ("it is especially forbidden... To declare abolished, suspended, or inadmissible in a court of law the rights and actions of the nationals of the hostile party") by killing Abdulrahman al-Awlaki and Mamana Bibi without providing evidence of either militancy or criminality and without any form of due process whatsoever.
- Violating Art. 25 of Hague IV ("The attack or bombardment, by whatever means, of towns, villages, dwellings, or buildings which are undefended is prohibited") by bombing Abdulrahman al-Awlaki, Giovanni Lo Porto, and Warren Weinstein, all of whom were in undefended buildings.
- Violating common Art. 3 of the Geneva Conventions as defined by U.S. Code § 2441 (d)(1)(b) ("Cruel or Inhuman Treatment - The act of a person who commits, or conspires or attempts to commit, an act intended to inflict severe or serious... mental pain or suffering... upon another within his custody or control") by keeping people, especially people in northern Pakistan, in perpetual fear of death leading to severe mental suffering through the constant presence of drones and the threat of drone strikes.
- Violating common Art. 3 of the Geneva Conventions as defined by 18 U.S. Code § 2441 (d)(1)(d) ("Murder - The act of a person who intentionally kills... or kills whether intentionally or unintentionally in the course of committing any other offense under this subsection, one or more persons taking no active part in the hostilities") by intentionally killing Abdulrahman al-Awlaki and Mamana Bibi, by inadvertently killing Giovanni Lo Porto and Warren Weinstein during an attack on an undefended building, and by inadvertently killing eight bystanders during the murder of Abdulrahman al-Awlaki.
- Violating common Art. 3 of the Geneva Conventions as defined by 18 U.S. Code § 2441 (d)(1)(e) ("Mutilation or Maiming - The act of a person who... injures whether intentionally or unintentionally in the course of committing any other offense under this subsection, one or more persons taking no active part in the hostilities") by inadvertently injuring the grandchildren of Mamana Bibi during her murder.
The War Crimes Project believes that President Obama is likely culpable and should be prosecuted for several other actions he took as president, including, but not limited to, crimes committed in drone strikes not discussed above, military actions in Libya, and the mass surveillance of people around the world.
- Draft legal memo on Barack Obama's drone program
- Sign the petition to prosecute Barack Obama
- Barack Obama wanted poster.pdf
- Barack Obama wanted poster.jpg
- "Ahmed Mohamed and Abdulrahman al-Awlaki: Obama’s Kill List Hypocrisy" by Margaret Kimberly
- "Al Qaeda Hostage, American Warren Weinstein, Killed in Operation" by Catherine E. Shoichet and Ashley Fantz
- "The American Teen Whose Death-by-Drone Obama Won’t Explain" by Nick Baumann
- "Defence Won’t Reveal if Australia’s Pine Gap was Involved in Fatal US Drone Attacks in Pakistan" by Rachael Brown
- Between a Drone and Al-Qaeda by Human Rights Watch
- Dirty Wars: The World Is a Battlefield by Jeremy Scahill
- "The Drone That Killed My Grandson" by Nasser al-Awlaki
- "Family of Grandmother Killed in US Drone Strike Arrive for Congress Visit" by Ryan Devereaux
- "First Evidence of a Blunder in Drone Strike: 2 Extra Bodies" by Mark Mazzetti and Eric Schmitt
- "Get the Data: Drone Wars: Obama 2012 Pakistan Strikes" by The Bureau of Investigative Journalism
- "How Team Obama Justifies the Killing of a 16-Year Old American" by Conor Friedersdorf
- "In Attack on Trump, Clinton Accidentally Admits Drone Killing of Abdulrahman al-Awlaki May Have Been a War Crime" by Ben Norton
- "Judge dismisses lawsuit over drone strikes in Yemen that killed American Anwar al-Awlaki" by Pete Yost
- “The Lethal Presidency of Barack Obama” by Tom Junod
- "Naming the Dead:Mamana Bibi" by The Bureau of Investigative Journalism
- "Obama’s Administration Killed a 16-Year-Old American and Didn’t Say Anything About It. This is Justice?" by Tom Junod
- "Obama Killed This 16-Year-Old American Without Trial and Congress Doesn’t Give a Damn" by Jack Hunter
- "Obama 'Surprised,' 'Upset' When Anwar Al-Awlaki's Teenage Son Was Killed by U.S. Drone Strike" by Sabrina Siddiqui
- "One Year On, No Justice for Italian Hostage Killed in U.S. Drone Strike" by Cora Currie
- "Officials fear CIA missed opportunity to identify Western hostage" by Greg Jaffe, Adam Goldman, and Greg Miller
- "Plan for Hunting Terrorists Signals U.S. Intends to Keep Adding Names to Kill Lists" by Greg Miller
- "Please Tell Me, Mr. President, Why a US Drone Assassinated My Mother" by Rafiq ur Rehman
- "Secret Details of Drone Strike Revealed as Unprecedented Case Goes to German Court" by Jeremy Scahill
- "‘Signature Strikes’ and the President’s Empty Rhetoric on Drones" by Arianna Huffington
- Will I Be Next?: US Drone Strikes in Pakistan by Amnesty International