9 May 2011

Drone attacks in Pakistan are ‘next Guantanamo’

A lawyer acting for victims of US drone strikes in Pakistan is preparing fresh legal action against the CIA and tells Channel 4 News Osama bin Laden’s death strengthens the case against the attacks.

Pakistan drone war: legal challenge against CIA. (Getty)

Mirza Shahzad Akbar plans to represent 25 families over the deaths of more than 50 people, killed in bombing raids by unmanned US drones in Pakistan‘s Waziristan region, which borders Afghanistan.

Speaking at a press conference organised by the legal action charity Reprieve, the lawyer insisted these people “had nothing to do with the war on terror” and dismissed claims that Pakistan had “authorised” the airstrikes as “the lamest thing I’ve heard in my life”. His aim is to bring the cases before courts in the UK or US.

He added: “How could a country be authorised to allow the deaths of its own people?

“These drone strikes are not covered by any instrument of war. There is no such international legal instrument, no US authority.”

How could a country be authorised to allow the deaths of its own people? Mirza Shahzad Akbar

Clive Stafford-Smith, Reprieve’s founder, described the human rights concerns surrounding Pakistan drone attacks as “the next Guantanamo”. Mr Stafford-Smith has campaigned for many years on behalf of prisoners held at the US terror detention camp in Cuba.

It is estimated as many as 2,283 people have been killed by US drones in Pakistan since 2004. Of these, only 33 were said to be “high value targets” (HVTs).

First legal case

Mirza Shahzad Akbar brought about the first ever legal case against the CIA on behalf of a drone victim when Kareem Khan, a Pakistani journalist, began a campaign for justice following the deaths of his son and brother in Mirali in December 2009.

More from Channel 4 News: Pakistan drone strikes - the CIA's secret war

The lawyer filed a criminal complaint against the head of the CIA in Pakistan, forcing the official – named as Jonathan Banks – to flee the country in December 2010. Mr Khan is also seeking $500m in damages from US authorities.

Pakistan drone war: Sadaullah, 15, lost both his legs in a drone strike.

‘Perfect recruits’ for Taliban

The human rights lawyer explained that Kareem Khan had rejected the “choice to join the Taliban” but expressed concerns that others who had lost family members in drone strikes might turn to the militia group if they see no legal route available.

Sadaullah Wazir (pictured) was just 15 when he lost both legs and an eye in a drone strike that destroyed his home and left nine people dead. The teenager had been serving food in a “Hujra” (a place where male guests are entertained) when a missile was fired at the building from a US drone.

Mr Akbar explained that Sadaullah, now 19, is no longer interested in going to school and fears boys like him have been turned by the drone strikes into “perfect recruits” for extremists.

He said: “Extremism is not the answer for another extremism. Becoming a suicide bomber is continuing the cycle of terror.”

Bin Laden death

Mr Akbar told Channel 4 News that he believes the operation to kill Osama bin Laden in Pakistan adds weight to the campaign against America’s use of drones, saying “getting bin Laden was based on surveillance, but with drones the human intelligence is based on local people saying there are Taliban in that house” which he said was unreliable.

He also said that the US had carried out leaflet drops offering tribespeople cash sums in exchange for information on the whereabouts of militants.

Mr Akbar questions the basic intelligence-gathering mechanism which is driving drone strikes.

More from Channel 4 News: CIA drone strikes - a legal war?

He said: “Every month [the drone operators] are given a list of targets, but it is unclear how those names are gathered.”

Clive Stafford-Smith added: “It took ten years to get Osama bin Laden. But what is the policy for firing drones? ‘High value targets’ or anyone in a turban?”

The CIA does not publicly take responsibility for drone attacks in Pakistan and has declined to comment to Channel 4 News.