A Pakistani lawyer who has presided over lawsuits against the United States government for its drone attacks in his country blasted the CIA for expanding its strategy in Yemen to include drone strikes on suspected terrorists.
According to the Associated Press, the authorization will allow the CIA to kill suspected terrorists, even if they aren’t able to identify who the suspect is, but only with Yemeni permission. If a suspect is determined to be of low importance, permission to kill will be denied. But Shahzad Akbar, an attorney with the Pakistani Foundation for Fundamental Rights said in Washington, D.C. Thursday that the move only gives the CIA less incentive to discover suspects’ identities.
“They can’t kill them if they know someone is a low value target, however they can kill if they don’t know that person,” he said. “We were confused reading about it this morning.”
Pardiss Kebriaei, a lawyer with the Center for Constitutional Rights who filed charges (and lost in court) against the Obama administration for overstepping his bounds in ordering the killing of suspected terrorist and American citizen Anwar al-Awlaki, says that the “level of authority [granted in Yemen] is new.”
The human cost of the US government’s clandestine drone strikes strategy, including the deaths of young children in Pakistan and Yemen, will be highlighted this weekend as campaigners attempt to challenge domestic support for the Obama administration‘s controversial policy.
A conference in Washington, at which new video testimony will be shown from the relatives of victims, is the first step in a collaborative campaign to challenge Barack Obama’s claim in February that the strikes, aimed at terror suspects, were kept on a “tight leash” and had not inflicted huge civilian casualties.
The summit’s organisers – the Center for Constitutional Rights, Reprieve and the peace group Code Pink – hope it will increase awareness of how the CIA-controlled programme is operating in secret, without a clear legal framework and without any accountability to Congress.
Earlier this month, the US government announced it was expanding its controversial use of drone aircraft to kill suspected terrorists in Yemen.
Chris Woods, a journalist at the British-based Bureau of Investigative Journalism, who exposed CIA drone attacks on rescuers and funeralgoers in Pakistan, described the summit as an “extraordinary heavyweight gathering”. He said: “Washington has not seen anything like this before.”
The US government has granted a visa to a lawyer representing civilian victims of drone strikes in Pakistan who is due to speak at a Washington conference this weekend, following months of pressure by activists and lawyers.
Akbar, a Pakistani lawyer who founded the Islamabad-based human rights organisation, Foundation for Fundamental Rights, said he was grateful for the pressure brought to bear on the government by the conference organisers, their supporters and those who covered the story.
Last month, the Center for Constitutional Rights, Reprieve, and the peace group Codepink criticised the failure to grant a visa to Akbar, a critical advocate for victims of drone attacks and a key speaker who was to provide a voice for the victims of drone strikes in tribal Pakistan.
A Pakistani lawyer who is suing the CIA to stop its campaign of lethal drone attacks against top terrorists there has been granted a visa to enter the United States to publicize his case.
The decision to admit Mirza Shahzad Akbar may prove controversial.
One of his clients in the lawsuit, who says his relatives were civilian casualties of a drone strike, deliberately outed the CIA station chief in Islamabad in December 2010. The chief had to be withdrawn hurriedly.
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact: Ramah Kudaimi, Drone Summit Organizer, firstname.lastname@example.org
April 24, 2012
National — After months of pressure from human rights activists, the U.S. government has granted Pakistani lawyer Shahzad Akbar a visa to attend and speak at an International Drone Summit in Washington DC on April 28, 2012.
The Summit is organized by the peace group CODEPINK and the legal advocacy organizations Reprieve and the Center for Constitutional Rights. Akbar, co-founder of the Pakistani human rights organization Foundation for Fundamental Rights, filed the first case in Pakistan on behalf of family members of civilian victims of CIA drone strikes and has been a critical force in litigating and advocating on victims’ behalf. He had been invited to speak in the US before and first sought a visa nearly a year ago. His request had been pending since then.
“I am glad that better sense prevailed and the State Department is finally letting me into the country after 14 months of delay and tireless efforts by the Summit organizers,” Akbar said. “I will be speaking to American people about the loss of so many innocent Pakistani lives in their name. I believe the American people are good people and will want to do something to stop this unjust, counterproductive war that violates all norms of international law and human rights.”