WASHINGTON — The Yemeni government paid the families of those killed or injured in a U.S. drone strike last year more than $1 million, according to documents that provide new details on secret condolence payments seen as evidence that civilians with no ties to al-Qaida were among the casualties.
The documents, which are signed by Yemeni court officials and victims' relatives, record payouts designed to quell anger over a U.S. strike that hit vehicles in a wedding party and prompted a suspension of the U.S. military's authority to carry out drone attacks on an al-Qaida affiliate.
The records reveal payments that are many times larger than Yemeni officials acknowledged after the strike. The $1 million-plus figure also exceeds the total amount distributed by the U.S. military for errant strikes in Afghanistan over an entire year.
The documents also contain other details, including the identities of those killed or wounded in the Dec. 12 operation by the U.S. military's Joint Special Operations Command. Among them were a father and son with identification cards listing them as associates of a Yemeni organization working to curb Islamist militancy. The father survived the strike but his 29-year-old son was killed.
The records were provided to the Washington Post by Reprieve, a London-based human rights organization that has worked in Yemen to document civilian casualties of the U.S. drone campaign.
Kat Craig, a legal director for the group, said the records undermine U.S. claims "that the victims of this drone attack were anything other than civilians" and said the size of the payouts suggest that the Yemeni government — among the poorest in the Middle East — is being reimbursed by the United States.
The records indicate that families of those killed were each given Yemeni currency worth $60,000, with smaller amounts paid to those who sustained injuries or whose vehicles were damaged or destroyed. "In Yemen, that is a life-changing amount of money," Craig said. "I can't believe those types of figures would be initiated by the Yemeni government."
U.S. officials declined to comment on the Dec. 12 strike or any U.S. role in the payments but acknowledged offering money to victims and their families when civilians are injured or killed.
"Although we will not comment on specific cases, were non-combatants killed or injured in a U.S. strike, condolence or other ex gratia payments, such as solatia, may be available," said Caitlin Hayden, spokeswoman for the National Security Council.