Conflict & Justice

Pakistanis sue US over drone attacks


Activists of the Pakistani fundamentalist Islamic party Jamaat-i-Islami (JI) shout slogans beside a burning effigy of CIA contractor Raymond Davis during a protest in Peshawar on March 18, 2011. Thousands of people took to the streets across Pakistan on March 18 to protest a US drone strike that killed 35 people.


A. Majeed

With little other recourse available, Pakistanis who have lost family members to the drone attacks in North and South Waziristan are attempting to sue the U.S. government.

They have held mass protests, but to no avail. They have appealed to their own government to stop the attacks, which as in ally of the United States it could presumably do, but that hasn't worked either. The Pakistani government, which has repeatedly denounced the drone strikes publicly, has continued to give them the green light privately. It's enough, they say, to make them throw up their hands and join the militants. But that, of course, wouldn't help either.

So with no one to turn to who might have their best interests in mind, it's to the courts they go.

(GlobalPost in North Waziristan: Obama's Hidden War)

Kareem Khan was the first Pakistani to file a lawsuit against the United States. A journalist whose brother and son were killed by a drone in 2009, he hired a lawyer and moved forward with a case against Jonathan Banks, the former C.I.A. station chief in Islamabad. Khan said he planned to sue the C.I.A. for $500 million in damages. He has specifically challenged the U.S. claim that drones have the ability to zero in on targets and avoid civilians casualties.

The latest lawsuit was filed against John Rizzo, who was the general counsel for the C.I.A. when the use of armed drones was approved. Mirza Shahzad Akbar, a lawyer in Islamabad, announced that his team was collecting evidence from more than two dozen recent strikes that proved civilians were being killed. The lawyer accused Rizzo of being complicit in the murder of innocent people.

U.S. drone strikes began in 2004 under then-President George W. Bush. But they began in earnest with the arrival of President Barack Obama, who in 2008 increased the number of strikes in Pakistan's tribal regions exponentially. Obama has now also expanded them to Yemen and Somalia. The legality of the drone war is murky at best as the United States is not officially at war with any of those countries. In fact, Yemen and Pakistan are considered allies. Some have wondered if there has ever been a case in history where one ally repeatedly bombed another.

"It will be like the Nuremburg trials. If you follow an illegal order you should be held to account. If you kill an innocent person, that's murder," Akbar said, according to the U.K.'s Telegraph.