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Story Publication logo March 5, 2024

Three More Members of Congress Call On Pentagon To Make Amends to Somali Family


An exclusive investigation into the U.S. shadow war in Somalia and the toll its taken on innocent...


“We can’t take away the pain and suffering felt by this family, but the fact that we haven’t even tried is awful,” Rep. Jim McGovern told The Intercept.

An expanding chorus in Congress is urging the Pentagon to make amends to a Somali family following an investigation by The Intercept into a 2018 U.S. drone strike that killed a woman and her 4-year-old daughter.

The growing pressure on the Pentagon coincided with a government watchdog’s rebuke of the Defense Department for failing to accurately track law of war violations. The Government Accountability Office last month singled out officials at U.S. Africa Command, or AFRICOM, who they said “may not be reporting all alleged law of war violations as required.”

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Since late January, Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., and Reps. Barbara Lee, D-Calif., and Jim McGovern, D-Mass., have called on the Pentagon to compensate the family of the woman and child killed in the U.S. strike, Luul Dahir Mohamed and Mariam Shilow Muse. They’ve joined Reps. Sara Jacobs, D-Calif., and Ilhan Omar, D-Minn., who made the same demand earlier this year. In December 2023, two dozen human rights organizations — 14 Somali and 10 international groups — also called on Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin to compensate the family for the deaths.

“We cannot condemn other nations for civilian casualties if we are not following best practices.”

The April 1, 2018, attack in Somalia killed at least three, and possibly five, civilians, including Luul and Mariam. A formerly secret U.S. military investigation, obtained by The Intercept via the Freedom of Information Act, acknowledged the deaths of a woman and child in the strike but concluded their identities might never be known. This reporter traveled to Somalia and spoke with seven members of Luul and Mariam’s family. For more than five years, they have tried to contact the U.S. government, including through AFRICOM’s online civilian casualty reporting portal, but never received a reply.

“America needs to apologize, take responsibility, and make amends. We can’t take away the pain and suffering felt by this family, but the fact that we haven’t even tried is awful,” McGovern told The Intercept. “We cannot condemn other nations for civilian casualties if we are not following best practices. It makes no difference that these civilian casualties happened under the previous administration.”

In December, the Defense Department released its long-awaited “Instruction on Civilian Harm Mitigation and Response,” or DoD-I, which established the Pentagon’s “policies, responsibilities, and procedures for mitigating and responding to civilian harm” and directed the military to “respond to individuals and communities affected by U.S. military operations,” including by “expressing condolences” and providing so-called ex gratia payments to next of kin.

“I have worked to provide the Department of Defense the authority and the funds to make amends for civilian harm as a result of U.S military action,” Warren told The Intercept. “I am deeply concerned that the failure to make payments to impacted families seriously undercuts the credibility of the Department’s commitment to preventing and addressing civilian harm.”

The GAO report issued last month criticized Pentagon policies concerning potential war crimes. “DOD lacks comprehensive records of alleged law of war violations,” reads the investigation, which calls out both AFRICOM and U.S. Central Command, or CENTCOM.

“AFRICOM and CENTCOM have issued policies to implement the [law of war violation] reporting process, but AFRICOM’s policy is outdated and not fully aligned with current DOD policy,” the GAO found. “As a result, AFRICOM may not be aware of all such allegations or be in a position to forward reporting to DOD leadership as required.” 

Similarly, the investigation found that “CENTCOM did not have records for all of the alleged law of war violations … that occurred within its area of responsibility.” The GAO noted that these were more than mere clerical errors. “Without a system to comprehensively retain records of allegations of law of war violations,” the report says, “DOD leadership may not be well positioned to fully implement the law of war.”

In June 2023, The Intercept asked AFRICOM to answer detailed questions about its law of war and civilian casualty policies and requested interviews with officials versed in such matters. Despite multiple follow-ups, Courtney Dock, AFRICOM’s deputy director public affairs, has yet to respond.

The Pentagon’s inquiry into the attack that killed Luul and Mariam found that the Americans who conducted the strike were confused and inexperienced and that they argued about basic details, like how many passengers were in the targeted vehicle. The U.S. strike cell members mistook a woman and a child for an adult male, killing Luul and Mariam in a follow-up attack as they ran from the truck in which they had hitched a ride to visit relatives. Despite this, the investigation — by the unit that conducted the strike — concluded that standard operating procedures and the rules of engagement were followed. No one was ever held accountable for the deaths.

“This case — and others — reflect the tragic cost of the decades-long war on terror, a war that is increasingly fought remotely,” Lee, the California representative, told The Intercept. “The Pentagon needs to re-examine this and other cases, hold itself accountable for missteps, and make amends with innocent victims of U.S. actions.”


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