Administration Continues Apparent Policy of Harassing Pakistani Drone Critics

Yesterday, US officials detained and questioned former cricket star turned politician and drone critic Imran Khan in Canada before allowing him to travel on to New York.

Khan told his followers on Twitter on Friday that he was detained and interrogated about his views on drones.

A State Department official confirmed Khan had been briefly detained, but said the Pakistani politician was later released to travel the United States. “The issue was resolved and Mr. Khan is welcome in the United States,” said the official.


Khan, who led a protest march to northern Pakistan earlier this month to protest U.S. drone strikes, sent a message about the incident on Twitter on Friday, vowing to continue opposing the deadly attacks. “Nothing will change my stance,” he said.

“I was taken off from plane and interrogated by U.S. Immigration in Canada on my views on drones. My stance is known. Drone attacks must stop,” Khan tweeted on Friday afternoon.

This is not an isolated example of harassment. This is at least the third time this year that the US has delayed or denied entry to the US for Pakistani drone critics.

In April, the government stalled on giving Shahzad Akbar, a lawyer suing the US for its drone strikes, a visa to speak at an anti-drone conference.

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.

And in May, the government refused a visa to Muhammad Danish Qasim, preventing him from traveling to Seattle to accept an award for a film he made

In particular, “the film identifies the problems faced by families who have become victims of drone missiles, and it unearths the line of action which terrorist groups adopt to use victimised families for their vested interests.” In other words, it depicts the tragedy of civilian deaths, and documents how those deaths are then successfully exploited by actual Terrorists for recruitment purposes.

We can’t have the U.S. public learning about any of that. In April, Qasim was selected as the winner of the Audience Award for Best International Film at the 2012 National Film Festival For Talented Youth, held annually in Seattle, Washington. Qasim, however, along with his co-producers, were prevented from traveling to the U.S. to accept their award and showcase their film because their request for a visa to travel to the U.S. was denied. The Tribune reported: “Despite being chosen for the award, the filmmakers were unable to attend the award ceremony as their visa applications were rejected twice.

This is becoming a pattern in which the US harasses any Pakistanis who might speak out against drones in this country.

Why is the government so afraid of Pakistanis explaining to Americans what the drone attacks look like from a Pakistani perspective?

Marcy has been blogging full time since 2007. She’s known for her live-blogging of the Scooter Libby trial, her discovery of the number of times Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was waterboarded, and generally for her weedy analysis of document dumps.

Marcy Wheeler is an independent journalist writing about national security and civil liberties. She writes as emptywheel at her eponymous blog, publishes at outlets including the Guardian, Salon, and the Progressive, and appears frequently on television and radio. She is the author of Anatomy of Deceit, a primer on the CIA leak investigation, and liveblogged the Scooter Libby trial.

Marcy has a PhD from the University of Michigan, where she researched the “feuilleton,” a short conversational newspaper form that has proven important in times of heightened censorship. Before and after her time in academics, Marcy provided documentation consulting for corporations in the auto, tech, and energy industries. She lives with her spouse and dog in Grand Rapids, MI.

12 replies
  1. Jessica says:

    “Why is the government so afraid of Pakistanis explaining to Americans what the drone attacks look like from a Pakistani perspective?”

    And ruin all their hard work of dehumanizing these people? Perish the thought!

    Thanks for reporting this. I doubt the ‘regular’ media even knows who this guy is, let alone that they would ever report it in detail.

  2. Francois T says:

    Arresting Imran Khan is to Pakistanis what would be arresting Joe Montana or Michael Jordan in the Middle East for Americans.

    Homeland Security is becoming more and more insecure, aren’t they? CIA, the biggest user of armed drones, doesn’t like it when people expose them like that.

  3. emptywheel says:

    @Francois T: Agree on the analogy, though they didn’t arrest him, just detained him long enough to miss his flight. Though that’s probably all they COULD do without setting off riots in Pakistan.

  4. Eric Hodgdon says:

    Yes, and we have much better technology.

    Drones will evolve into autonomous units absent continuous inputs. They will be able to think for themselves, lie in wait, avoid detection, even find their own power sources to continue on. They will become God machines with extensive AIs.

    Within 15 years, such will be roaming the streets looking for YOU. I kid no one. This will be the new World Order. Advances are either here in part or the improvements in technology will make it so, soon, very soon.

    Sensors, memory, CPU, bandwidth, programmable fabric structures, on the fly analog/digital selection – this stuff I know.

  5. Reading The News says:

    @Jessica: usa officials pull Pakistani politician off plane

    Pakistani politician Imran Kahn, a vocal critic of U.S. drone strikes, was briefly delayed and questioned by U.S. immigration officials in Toronto before being allowed to board a flight to New York, prompting his party to demand an apology from Washington.

    Khan told his followers on Twitter that he was detained and interrogated Friday about his views on drones.

    A State Department official confirmed Khan had been briefly detained, but said the former Pakistani cricket star was later released to go the United States. “The issue was resolved and Mr. Khan is welcome in the United States,” the official said.

    Ali Zaidi, senior vice president of Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf party, demanded an apology from U.S. authorities for their two-hour questioning of Khan and his traveling companions, as well as a thorough investigation.

    The State Department gave no details about why Khan was detained.

  6. Billy Bob Tweed says:


    “Why is this not news?”

    Because Obama plays for the home team (“Go Blue!”) and has a (D) next to his name. When the visiting team in red has possession of the ball, then it will be news.

  7. dubinsky says:

    that the US doesn’t desire to permit free access to the country of prominent Pakistani critics isn’t likely to be due to fear of the explanation of the “Pakistani perspective”.

    that’s an assumption too far.

  8. Mick Savage says:

    WTF authority are US immigration officials operating in Toronto? I think other countries should reciprocate and station their troops and immigration tools in the United Snakes of Amurrikka…

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