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Pakistan Judge Orders Police Chief to Register Murder Case Against CIA Officials for Drone Strike

Former CIA legal counsel John Rizzo

An Islamabad High Court judge in Pakistan has directed the police to register a murder and terrorism case against two former CIA officials for their alleged involvement in a drone strike that killed Pakistanis.

Kareem Khan’s teenage son, Zahinullah, and his brother, Asif Iqbal, were killed on December 31, 2009, in a CIA drone strike in North Waziristan. Khan decided to pursue a case against those responsible for his family’s deaths in 2010.

“Today’s order is a victory for all those innocent civilians that have been killed in US led drone strikes in Pakistan and as a citizen of Pakistan I feel somewhat reaffirmed that perhaps people like me from Waziristan might also be able to get justice for the wrongs being done to them,” Khan stated. “I sincerely hope that authorities now will do their job and proceed against the culprits.”

Foundation for Fundamental Rights (FFR) director Shahzad Akbar, who represented Khan, reacted, “There is no doubt under Pakistani and international law that the US officials are committing an act of murder through drone strikes in Pakistan and today’s decision simply vindicates this very point.”

“After this order, all those who have been killed in drone strikes have a right to proceed in similar criminal actions against the CIA officials and others involved,” Khan added. “This remarkable order also highlights the strength of independence of judiciary in Pakistan which is truly protecting the rights of citizens of Pakistan under the Constitution.”

The High Court ordered a case to be registered against former CIA station chief Jonathan Banks and former CIA legal counsel John Rizzo for conspiracy, murder, terrorism and waging war against Pakistan.

On June 6, 2014, the High Court ordered charges to be registered against Banks and others, however, authorities did not comply with the order.

Islamabad Police Chief IGP Tahir Alam recently informed the court that authorities were reluctant to register a case because it could impact relations between Pakistan and the United States. However, Justice Shaukat Aziz Siddiqui was not persuaded and ordered a criminal case against CIA officials be submitted to the Office of the Registrar of the High Court.

As described by Akbar, on New Year’s Eve in 2009, two missiles from a CIA-operated drone were fired and hit Khan’s family home. His 18-year-old son and 35-year-old brother were killed. He found out about the attack over the phone and rushed home to find his home destroyed. His brother’s family were “devastated.”

Khan’s brother was a school teacher. He had “returned to their ancestral village, shortly after finishing his master’s degree in English literature.” His son was helping at a “government school in the area.” They were not involved in any insurgent groups like the Taliban.

Akbar has championed Khan as an example of someone who has chosen to try and force the legal system to work for him rather than turn to violence and seek revenge for what happened to his family. He believes the US government should be supportive of his effort to win justice for Khan, but, in 2011, the US government tried to prevent Akbar from speaking at Columbia University about drone strikes by denying him a visa.

Khan was mysteriously captured and disappeared in February 2014, just days before he was to go before British parliament and tell his story. He reappeared on February 14 after being “interrogated, beaten and tortured.” At least fifteen men, eight in police uniforms, chained him and asked him repeatedly about “investigations into drone strikes, his knowledge of drone strike victims and his work advocating on their behalf.”

Like with cases of torture, where the US government has strong-armed governments to protect CIA officials from accountability, the government has done the same here. Pakistan will continue to experience immense pressure to invent ways to circumvent or sidestep the legal process so that CIA officials do not have to face criminal charges for their role in drone strikes.

Nevertheless, in a separate case in 2013, the Peshawar High Court ruled that drone strikes in the tribal areas, “particularly North and South Waziristan, by CIA and US authorities” are a “blatant violation of basic human rights and are against the UN Charter, the UN General Assembly Resolution, adopted unanimously [and] the provision of [the] Geneva Conventions.” They are “war crimes” and illegal.

Creative Commonse Licensed Photo on Flickr by Saul Tannenbaum

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Kevin Gosztola

Kevin Gosztola

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