Monday, Apr 30, 2012 12:17 PM EDT
Drone victims’ defender speaks
The deaths of innocent Pakistani civilians turned Shahzad Akbar from a U.S. friend to full-time critic
By Jefferson Morley
[Drone victims' defender speaks] Pakistani lawyer Shahzad Akbar at a Washington conference on U.S. drone war.
If you want to see how President Obama’s drone war efficiently turns America’s friends into adversaries, meet Pakistani attorney Shahzad Akbar. After getting his legal education in the United Kingdom, Akbar returned to his native Islamabad to practice the kind of corporate and public accountability law that the U.S. says its hopes to encourage in Pakistan. He worked with the U.S. Agency for International Development on trade issues. While prosecuting a Pakistan consular officer who was selling visas, he coordinated his case with the FBI.
Then came the Obama administration’s escalation of the drone war. Now Akbar is a full-time critic of the U.S. government who was repeatedly denied a visa to visit Washington. After a spate of news articles, Akbar was granted permission to travel to Washington this weekend, where he warned Americans about the consequences of a remote control war where no U.S. lives are lost and Pakistani civilian casualties are routinely downplayed.
In his remarks Saturday to the “Drone Summit,” sponsored by Code Pink and the Center for Constitutional Rights, Akbar traced his transformation to a conversation he had three years ago with Karim Khan, the brother of a schoolteacher who died in 2009 in one of the 300 drone attacks along the Afghanistan border that have killed more than 3,000 people since 2004.
“He convinced me we had to do something because there are so many civilians being targeted and being thrown into militancy and extremism because the rest of the country and world are not listening to them,” Akbar told the conference attended by 150 people. In a region where schools are rare, he said the U.S. attack devastated a “progressive family” that promoted education.
While continuing to practice law, Akbar helped organize a demonstration in 2009 publicly identifying the chief of the CIA station in Islamabad, who plays a central role in the missile strikes against suspected anti-U.S. terrorists. By 2010, he was representing “dozens of families” who have lost relatives in the strikes and he put aside his corporate law practice in favor of working full time against U.S. drone war. Now Akbar is preparing a lawsuit against the Pakistan foreign minister demanding the expulsion of U.S. ambassador Cameron Munter who is believed to play a a consultative role in the drone strikes launched by the CIA. His clients, he says, are the the “voiceless” people of Waziristan, the region targeted by U.S. policymakers.
“No one cares to give them names or identities just the label of ‘militants’ and that is enough to kill them and then justify that killing,” he said.
Akbar rejected Obama administration officials claims that civilians are not being killed in the strikes. “They are lying to their own people,” he said.