Update February 14: Khan has been freed! The Express Tribune reports that he was beaten and tortured, but is now free after being blindfolded and pushed out of a van.
In a very interesting development, Al Jazeera is reporting that disappeared drone activist Karim Khan had planned to testify before the International Criminal Court in The Hague on his trip to Europe which had been planned to begin on February 15. Khan was abducted from his home on February 5 and it is widely believed that Pakistan’s intelligence service was behind the abduction.
Khan made a very dramatic entrance into the world of drone activism in November of 2010, when he sued the US for $500 million after his son and brother were killed in a drone strike in their home village of Mir Ali in North Waziristan. In the lawsuit, Khan named the Islamabad CIA station chief:
A North Waziristan tribesman, whose brother and teenage son were killed in a drone strike last year, said on Monday that he would sue all those US officials supposedly in control of the predator’s operations in Pakistan.
Karim Khan, a local journalist from Mirali town of the lawless tribal district, had sent a $500 million claim for damages to the US Defence Secretary Robert Gates, CIA chief Leon Panetta and its station head in Islamabad Jonathan Banks.
Khan described how Banks’ activities lead to the deaths of innocent civilians:
He told journalists that CIA Islamabad’s chief Jonathan Banks buys information from his local agents in the area to guide the drone strike.
However, he added that this information is wrong and misleading in most occasions causing the deaths of many innocent tribesmen.
Khan’s attorney throughout this process has been Shahzad Akbar. Akbar also represents Noor Khan, whose case in the Peshawar High Court resulted in the ruling that US drone strikes within Pakistan are illegal and constitute war crimes.
The fact that Akbar has gotten this ruling seems to me to add significance to the Al Jazeera report, which appears to cite Akbar as the source of the disclosure that Khan was to testify at the ICC:
A Pakistani court has ordered the country’s intelligence agencies to produce a prominent anti-drone campaigner, who was abducted last week, by February 20, or to categorically state that they are not holding him, the activist’s lawyers say.
Speaking to Al Jazeera on Wednesday, Shehzad Akbar, the head of Karim Khan’s legal team, called Khan’s abduction from his Rawalpindi home late on February 5 “a signature government abduction”, alleging that Pakistan’s powerful intelligence agencies were responsible for the disappearance.
Khan had been due to fly to Europe on February 15, on a trip that would see him testify before members of the European Parliament in Brussels, UK legislators in London and the International Criminal Court in The Hague, on the US’ use of drone strikes in Pakistan’s tribal areas.
The court which issued the ruling for the ISI to present Khan was the Lahore High Court:
Lahore High Court (LHC) Rawalpindi bench on Wednesday issued notices to security agencies to submit their reply in a case related to disappearance of an anti-drone activist as it ordered to present the man at the next hearing.
LHC Justice Shehzad Ahmad Khan was hearing a plea filed by the family of Karim Khan, who went missing a few days back.
During the proceedings, the police denied their involvement in the disappearance. “Khan was picked up by persons wearing police uniform but he is not in our custody,” the police report claimed.
On this, the court sought reply from all intelligence agencies and ordered them to present Khan on February 20, the next date of hearing.
I know it’s probably easy for Obama supporters, if not members of the Administration, to dismiss the warnings of lawyers who fought within the Bush Administration to cloak our counterterrorism policy in legal sanction as trolling.
I have been warning for several years about the international legal risks posed by the Obama Administration’s heavy reliance on drone strikes, including my Post op-ed in October 2011 entitled “Will Drone Strikes Become Obama’s Guantanamo?” This article was not intended as partisan criticism but rather as a cautionary note, based on my own eight years of experience explaining US counter-terrorism policies.
At the time I wrote it, I thought there was perhaps only a 25% chance that Obama’s drone strikes would become as internationally maligned as Guantanamo, given the preference of human rights groups and European governments to avoid criticising the Obama Administration. But over the last eighteen months, I have seen a crescendo in international criticism, resulting in lawsuits in the US, Britain, and Pakistan, and a potential decrease in intelligence cooperation. This has echoes of the rapid decline in European governmental support for US counterterrorism efforts after 9-11 as national parliaments pressed their governments to distance themselves from unpopular US policies. I would not be surprised if, in the next year, war crimes charges are brought against senior Obama officials in a European country with a universal jurisdiction law. The Administration is increasingly on the back foot internationally in explaining and defending the legal aspects of the drone program. It needs to step up its efforts.
These are not starry-eyed hippies. They’re solidly conservative lawyers. And yet it seems their warnings are being treated with the seriousness they would if I had made them.
One more point. As I traced last year, the White House’s unusual efforts to keep all mention of the “Gloves Come Off” Memorandum of Notification that authorizes many of these counterterrorism programs mapped closely to the exposure of Binyam Mohammed’s torture through an effort very nearly parallel to the suit Bellinger discusses in his post: Noor Khan’s suit against the UK for cooperating in the drone strike that killed his father.
The UK has used various strategies to try to hide its role in US covert operations: effectively a Glomar in this case, and a larger effort to create a secret court to hide our counterterrorism programs.
Maybe these British efforts will work. Maybe this particular ally will succeed in hiding the things we work hard to hide.
But not all of them will be.
The Administration seems increasingly committed to claiming all of this was a covert op, immune even from full disclosure to the Intelligence Committees, to say nothing of ordinary citizens. Perhaps it is so committed in an effort to avoid embarrassing our allies like this.
But it’s not fooling anyone.