Campaign graphic for “Twitter storm” to free Kareem Khan

A drone victim, journalist and activist who has spoken out against drone strikes in Pakistan was kidnapped by fifteen to twenty men in the early hours of February 5. He is missing and a judge in Pakistan has ordered the Pakistani intelligence services to produce him by February 20.

Kareem Khan has been pushing a legal case against the CIA and Pakistan government, seeking to hold them accountable for the killing of his son and brother in December 2009. He submitted a complaint against former CIA station chief in Pakistan, Jonathan Banks, for his alleged role in the drone attack that left his family dead.

His application to register the case against Banks, according to Channel 4 News, said: “Jonathan Banks is operating from the US embassy in Islamabad which is a clear violation of diplomatic norms and laws, as a foreign mission cannot be used for any criminal activity within a sovereign state.” Khan alleged that Banks had a “business visa,” which meant he did not have “diplomatic status” and was not immune from prosecution.

The human rights organization, Reprieve, indicated,  “Khan was due to fly to Europe on February 15 in order to address “German, Dutch and British Parliamentarians about his personal experience with drone strikes and and his work as a freelance journalist investigating other strikes in the region.”

Khan’s brother-in-law, Dilbar Jan, filed a report on his disappearance with police. Jan told Agence France-Presse, “The kids, my sister, my uncle and I are all very worried and anxious.” He was taken by fifteen to twenty people, some dressed in police uniforms. His young nephews and him saw the kidnapping.

Afraid, Jan added, “We haven’t done anything that is anti-state, nor do any of us have bad intentions towards anyone,” and, “We’re from an educated family, we’re all government employees, I myself am a teacher. We can’t think of doing something wrong.”

Reprieve’s Executive Director Claire Alger said in a statement, “It has now been a week since anyone has seen or heard from Kareem Khan. The Pakistani Government must immediately tell us where he is and why they have tried to silence such an important anti-drones voice. Failure to do so raises disturbing questions of continued PK complicity in the US drone program.”

Shahzad Akbar, Khan’s lawyer who has been fighting to stop drone strikes in Pakistan’s courts, reacted, “This is a completely illegal disappearance, which means some kind of pressure is being applied through his disappearance to the other drone victims.”

Akbar was at a hearing in the Rawalpindi Bench of the Lahore High Court to convince the court to help him figure out where Khan is being held. It is believed the intelligence services must have Khan because the police claim to know nothing about his abduction. The Ministry of Interior now has a week to find Khan and bring him before the court.

On “Democracy Now!,” documentary filmmaker and journalist Madiha Tahir, who interviewed Khan for her film, “Wounds of Waziristan,” said:

Karim is the first, that I know of, that has been picked up who is an anti-drone activist, but disappearances in Pakistan are very common. It’s a common state tactic. It has been happening in Balochistan, where there is a separatist movement, for a long time now. And, in fact, three are families protesting. There were mass graves found in Balochistan of missing people quite recently, only a few weeks ago. So this is a very common tactic by the state, and now, clearly, the Pakistani establishment, which is to say the intelligence agencies and the Pakistani army, want to send a message to the anti-drone movement to tell us to—you know, to tell the movement to shut up, basically.

A page on the “Wounds of Waziristan” website has been dedicated to Khan, with a call to people around the world to engage in a “Twitter Storm” with the hashtag #FreeKareem to hopefully get authorities to find him and have him freed.

Activists from the peace group, CODEPINK, are holding a demonstration outside the Pakistani embassy in Washington, DC, this afternoon.

A press release from the group reported, “Members of CODEPINK have met with Pakistani officials in the Washington, DC embassy and handed in over 6,500 petition signatures demanding Khan’s release. They have also been working with Congressional representatives from the Foreign Affairs Committees and met with State Dept Deputy Director Anne Patterson asking for her assistance.”

While it is unclear at the moment what role the United States might have played in Khan’s disappearance—or, more specifically, what role the CIA may have played, it should not go unmentioned that US intelligence agencies have sought to neutralize drone opponents.

Akbar was not granted a visa by the State Department to visit the US when he wanted to come and help translate testimony from Pakistani drone victims scheduled to testify to members of Congress.

When I interviewed Akbar at a “Drone Summit” organized by CODEPINK on April 28, 2012, he talked about how the US and especially the CIA became unhappy with him after he began his work in October 2010 because it bumped up against the narrative that the US was only killing “bad guys.” He found through work with victims that the US was mainly killing civilians and innocent people in Waziristan, who have nothing against the US. (He was representing Kareem Khan.)

“The US government has a long history of treating drone opponents as national security threats,” according to journalist Glenn Greenwald. ”In 2012, it denied a visa to filmmaker Muhammad Danish Qasim, a Pakistani student at Iqra University’s Media Science. He had released a short film entitled The Other Side, a 20-minute narrative that ‘revolves around the idea of assessing social, psychological and economical effects of drones on the people in tribal areas of Pakistan.’ The film highlighted the pain and havoc wreaked on surviving children and other relatives of drone victims. The visa denial meant he was barred from receiving the Audience Award for Best International Film at the 2012 National Film Festival For Talented Youth, held annually in Seattle, Washington.”

Drone opponents are viewed as individuals participating in a “propaganda” campaign against the US. Their success in turning people against drones is seen as detrimental to the ability of the US to wage the so-called war on terrorism effectively.

There is no evidence at the moment that suggests the US or, specifically, the CIA kidnapped Khan. But let’s admit the record of the US does not allay suspicion.

It is certainly reasonable to suspect that the US government has some idea where Khan happens to be and, if they cared about his abduction, the government could apply pressure to have him freed. But, since he is probably viewed as a threat to continued operations in Pakistan—operations which the Pakistan government has at least publicly displayed clear opposition and a court has even decided constitute war crimes—what can Khan’s family reasonably expect the US government to do for them?

*Watch Madiha Tahir’s interview on “Democracy Now!” 

Kevin Gosztola

Kevin Gosztola

Kevin Gosztola is managing editor of Shadowproof. He also produces and co-hosts the weekly podcast, "Unauthorized Disclosure."