Drone activist denied visa

Guest Post: The U.S. refuses to allow Shahzad Akbar into the country -- is it payback for his aid to drone victims?

Topics:

Drone activist denied visaShahzad Akbar (Credit: AP/Anjum Naveed)

[Glenn Greenwald is on vacation this week and three writers will be filling in for him]

By Murtaza Hussain

“If the U.S. believes in the rule of law, it should not be hindering advocacy of claims against the CIA for wrongful death and injury.” Shahzad Akbar, a Pakistani lawyer and co-founder of the Pakistan based legal advocacy organization Foundation for Fundamental Rights (FFR) has been campaigning for the past several years on behalf of civilians who have been killed and maimed as part of the CIA’s covert drone warfare program in NW Pakistan’s Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province. The drone campaign, which continues to be conducted without oversight and accountability, is documented to have taken a horrendous toll on the civilian population of these regions, the magnitude of which has only come to light through the efforts of grassroots activists such as Akbar.

The London based Bureau of Investigative Journalism has documented more than 160 cases of children who have been killed by CIA-operated Predator drones among over 800 confirmed civilian deaths. These are individuals with no connection to militancy whose lives have been ended by a clandestine program under which there is no known reprimand for inflicting civilian casualties. The free hand given to the CIA to kill in Northwest Pakistan has created a culture of near impunity where innocent civilians can be killed wantonly without fear of censure. Among the poorest and most disenfranchised people in Pakistan, those who live in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa have little to no means of obtaining redress for harm which has been caused to them and lack the ability to even raise awareness of their plight. It is in this light that legal campaigners such as Akbar have taken it upon themselves to bring attention to those killed in the CIA campaign and to win some measure of legal protection for those innocent civilians who continue to be targeted. As Akbar described the conditions of the disenfranchised rural people whom he campaigns for; “People are scared….I’ve interviewed some neighbors whose next-door house was hit, and I could feel what they’re feeling, because they’re feeling this imminent threat. And they are actually feeling helpless at the same time, because they have no other place to relocate, because a lot of them have no skills, no education, so they cannot relocate in any other part of Pakistan.”

You Might Also Like

Akbar is a lawyer and his effort to obtain justice for dead and wounded Pakistani civilians is an absolutely legal, civil society campaign to see that those responsible are held accountable for abuses, and that innocent civilians whose lives have been destroyed see some legal redress. In this context it is reasonable to assume that if there is nothing illegal or otherwise unsavoury going on, the CIA and U.S. government should have no objection to Akbar’s work and should allow him to continue unimpeded. Akbar is far from an anti-American figure and in fact is a former consultant for USAID in Pakistan, who has in the past helped assist the FBI investigate terrorism cases in the country. However, the U.S. government has not embraced his efforts to provide oversight to the CIA drone program and in fact is actively moving to silence him. Invited to speak at the International Drone Summit in D.C this month, Akbar has been forced to cancel his speaking engagement as the U.S. government has refused to grant him a visa. Attempting to speak on his work at Columbia University law school last year, he found himself in the same situation as U.S. officials denied his visa specifically to prevent him from sharing his findings directly with the U.S. public.

According to Akbar, his once positive relationship with the American government first changed after he agreed to take on the case of Karim Khan, a Pakistani man whose son and brother were killed in a drone strike on his home on New Years Eve, 2009. Far from terrorists, his brother was a schoolteacher who held a masters degree in English literature and who in death left behind a wife and two-year-old boy; while his son was a student who worked in one of the few government schools in the area. Instead of joining the Taliban and taking up arms against the U.S. in response to the wanton killing of his family members, Khan enlisted the help of Akbar to use legal means to win justice. For his work to help Khan and countless others who have endured unimaginable suffering at the hands of the CIA operated Predator drones, Akbar has found himself repeatedly blacklisted from the U.S. in order to stifle details of his work.

What is at stake for the CIA is the exposure of the false narrative they have used to justify their continued extrajudicial killings of Pakistanis. As Akbar describes it, “Our legal challenges disrupt the narrative of ‘precision strikes’ against ‘high-value targets’ as an unqualified success against terrorism, at minimal cost to civilian life,” said Akbar. “The CIA does not want anyone challenging their killing spree, but the American people should have the right to know.” Recent reports have surfaced that CIA drone operators have been deliberately targeting rescue workers and funerals in Pakistan, a war crime under the Geneva Convention and a grievous moral failure in its own right. Through its refusal to allow Akbar to speak directly to Americans, the U.S. government is preventing them from being able to decide whether the true cost of the drone program is indeed “worth it” and whether they want to have their name associated with a campaign which is killing the innocent civilians of a foreign country on an industrial scale.

The organizers of the Drone Summit are attempting to put pressure on the U.S. government to go back on its decision and grant Akbar a visa, and to this end have begun a public petition calling on Consul General Steve Maloney to do so. Whatever the ultimate result, the repeated attempts to silence Akbar and impede his legal work are indicative of the contempt for the rule of law this administration has shown, especially in regards to those who attempt to blow the whistle on misconduct by the military and CIA. While the government may attempt to silence him Akbar’s work continues on.  ”We are working to help empower those who have no ability to protect themselves and their families from these missiles. It is our duty to ensure that the truth is told”. The truth about CIA drone operations in Pakistan would seem to be one that the U.S. government would prefer Americans not hear.

Glenn Greenwald

Follow Glenn Greenwald on Twitter: @ggreenwald.

More Related Stories

Featured Slide Shows

  • Share on Twitter
  • Share on Facebook
  • 1 of 11
  • Close
  • Fullscreen
  • Thumbnails
    Martyna Blaszczyk/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 1

    Pond de l'Archeveche - hundreds thousands of padlocks locked to a bridge by random couples, as a symbol of their eternal love. After another iconic Pont des Arts bridge was cleared of the padlocks in 2010 (as a safety measure), people started to place their love symbols on this one. Today both of the bridges are full of love locks again.

    Anders Andersson/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 2

    A bird's view of tulip fields near Voorhout in the Netherlands, photographed with a drone in April 2015.

    Aashit Desai/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 3

    Angalamman Festival is celebrated every year in a small town called Kaveripattinam in Tamil Nadu. Devotees, numbering in tens of thousands, converge in this town the day after Maha Shivratri to worship the deity Angalamman, meaning 'The Guardian God'. During the festival some of the worshippers paint their faces that personifies Goddess Kali. Other indulge in the ritual of piercing iron rods throughout their cheeks.

    Allan Gichigi/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 4

    Kit Mikai is a natural rock formation about 40m high found in Western Kenya. She goes up the rocks regularly to meditate. Kit Mikai, Kenya

    Chris Ludlow/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 5

    On a weekend trip to buffalo from Toronto we made a pit stop at Niagara Falls on the Canadian side. I took this shot with my nexus 5 smartphone. I was randomly shooting the falls themselves from different viewpoints when I happened to get a pretty lucky and interesting shot of this lone seagull on patrol over the falls. I didn't even realize I had captured it in the shot until I went back through the photos a few days later

    Jassen T./National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 6

    Incredibly beautiful and extremely remote. Koehn Lake, Mojave Desert, California. Aerial Image.

    Howard Singleton/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 7

    Lucky timing! The oxpecker was originally sitting on hippo's head. I could see the hippo was going into a huge yawn (threat display?) and the oxpecker had to vacate it's perch. When I snapped the pic, the oxpecker appeared on the verge of being inhaled and was perfectly positioned between the massive gaping jaws of the hippo. The oxpecker also appears to be screeching in terror and back-pedaling to avoid being a snack!

    Abrar Mohsin/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 8

    The Yetis of Nepal - The Aghoris as they are called are marked by colorful body paint and clothes

    Madeline Crowley/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 9

    Taken from a zodiac raft on a painfully cold, rainy day

    Ian Bird/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 10

    This wave is situated right near the CBD of Sydney. Some describe it as the most dangerous wave in Australia, due to it breaking on barnacle covered rocks only a few feet deep and only ten metres from the cliff face. If you fall off you could find yourself in a life and death situation. This photo was taken 300 feet directly above the wave from a helicopter, just as the surfer is pulling into the lip of the barrel.

  • Recent Slide Shows

Comments

0 Comments

Comment Preview

Your name will appear as username ( settings | log out )

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href=""> <b> <em> <strong> <i> <blockquote>