Pakistani HUMAN rights lawyer Mirza Shahzad Akbar presented evidence from his pioneering lawsuits for victims of US drone attacks in Waziristan, Pakistan at a press conference in London on Monday.
The conference was hosted by Clive Stafford Smith, director of legal charity Reprieve.
Shahzad brought the first ever legal case against the CIA in Pakistan on behalf of Kareem Khan, who approached the Islamabad-based lawyer after losing his son and brother in a US drone strike in Waziristan.
Shahzad then filed an unprecedented criminal complaint against the head of the CIA in Pakistan, forcing that official to flee the country.
Shahzad also filed a wrongful death tort action on behalf of Kareem Khan and has investigated and identified many other victims who he hopes to represent in future lawsuits.
According to one public source, up to 2,283 people, – most of them innocent civilians, including many women and children – have been killed by US unmanned aircraft, or ‘drones’, since 2004 – with the numbers rapidly escalating in the past two years under President Obama.
A statement by Kareem Khan, released at the press conference, said: ‘I have been a journalist for the last 11 years reporting for Arab news channels from Waziristan.
It said: ‘My name is Kareem Khan and I am a resident of North Waziristan.
‘I have been a journalist for the last 11 years reporting for Arab news channels from Waziristan.
‘My house in Machi Khel was attacked in 2009, which killed my 17-year-old son Hafiz Zaenullah and my brother Asif Iqbal Rehimullah, who was only 35. Asif adopted the surname of Iqbal because of his love for the Urdu poet Iqbal.
‘Asif was an English teacher in the Government Middle School in Datta Khel. Asif was the idealist who, after finishing his Masters in English Literature from NUML, decided to move back to Waziristan to teach young children of the area.
‘His dreams were shattered on the evening of December 31 2009, when the Americans fired missiles from drones at my house. Until today, I am unable to understand – what was Asif’s crime?
‘Why was Zaenullah, who was only 17, considered so dangerous by the Americans that they decided to kill him with missiles?
‘I am not a lawyer or a Human Rights activist. I am simply a victim of drone strikes in Pakistan.
‘I have one simple request of you from all those who can grant justice: I want justice for hundreds of innocent civilians who have been killed by the CIA.
‘I request you to raise a voice for me and many others who are looking towards their brothers and sisters in Pakistan to help us seek justice.
‘People of the Tribal Areas have always done what Pakistan has asked them to do for Pakistan.
‘Now, the people of the Tribal Areas are asking you to do a simple thing –Get us justice. Get us the right to live.’
Lawyer Shahzad told journalists: ‘Waziristan is the most affected area by the “war on terror” and by civilian casualties.
‘There is the presence of the Taleban, US forces and drones. All these forces are a danger to civilians. Drone strikes are a major part.
‘Drone strikes are not covered by any international law.
‘There is no international or domestic legal document that gives the US permission to launch drone strikes in Pakistan.
There is talk of Pakistan giving the US authority for drone strikes in Pakistan.
‘How can a government give authority to kill its own people? That’s like using the methods of Hitler.’
Shahzad added: ‘Drones are specifically called out in the tribal areas.
‘Waziristan is a federal area but is not covered by federal legislation.
‘It is still under draconian colonial-era legislation.
‘The US says therefore Pakistan does not have jurisdiction over the area.
‘But the Pakistan Supreme Court has legislated fundamental rights in the area.’
Showing a slide of his client, Shahzad said: ‘Kareem Khan, a reporter for Al Jazeera, looks like a Taleban.
‘But the turban he is wearing is a gift from the British time, that was given to denote ownership of an amount of land, a symbol of a dignified person.
‘In 2009, on New Year’s Eve, his house was struck by a drone.
‘His brother and his son were killed. His brother was the only English teacher in the area.
‘The other person who was killed was Zaenullah, his son who was 17. Kareem’s home was destroyed.
‘When Kareem brought his case forward he was left with no option – no government authority, no jurisdiction in the area.
‘One option would be to join the Taleban but he decided not to take that option.
‘He went to the administration and they did not listen to him.
‘He contacted us and we decided to sue the CIA.
‘This does not only apply to Kareem Khan, More families who were the victims of drone strikes have come forward.’
He went on to give examples of a teenage boy who lost his legs and an eye, and three college students, whose car was hit and the only evidence of their existence was a college ID card.
Shahzad said: ‘School student Sadullah lost both legs and one eye at 15.
‘All of his uncles and a couple of his cousins were killed in the same drone strike.
‘He’s 19 now, he doesn’t go to school anymore.’
Shahzad added that there is concern ‘that most suicide bombers are in their teens’.
He warned: ‘If there is no other option, youth join the Taleban to get US-style justice.’
The lawyer added: ‘On November 26 2010 three college students including Sanaullah Jan, 17, were in his friends’ car which was blown to pieces.’
He said that ‘all that was left was his college identity card. Sanaullah Jan’s brother want to sue the CIA.
‘There are a few people who were just numbers before we started this investigation.
‘We want to give human identity to people who up to now were just numbers.’
He concluded that the families he now represents ‘are seeking justice over “war on terror” deaths.
‘It is not expected for the US to come to Pakistan.
‘We want to take our case outside, to the UK or US to force the US to answer before a court.
‘We want to provide an option that extremism is not the answer to (US) extremism. We want to end the cycle of terror.’
Reprieve’s Clive Stafford Smith opened the conference saying: ‘I suspect there is very little belief that the US did not intend to eliminate Osama bin Laden.
‘The alternative was a hugely embarrassing trial.
‘This is part of a strategy of taking no prisoners.
‘Drones are part of this process.’