ISLAMABAD — Sadaullah Wazir says he was relaxing in his front
yard when the missile struck, hurling him against the wall and mangling
his legs so badly that they had to be amputated. Three of his relatives
died. Now the 17-year-old and his family want justice from America,
which they say was behind the attack.
Detailed accounts by
casualties such as Wazir rarely make it outside the tribal regions. He
and other tribesmen recently traveled to Islamabad, the capital, to meet
with lawyers who are planning to sue the CIA for damages, possibly
adding a new layer of scrutiny to the agency's covert war inside
American officials do not acknowledge that war or
discuss who is being killed in drone-fired missile attacks on al-Qaida
and Taliban targets, which have surged this year to average about two a
week. But they have said privately that the strikes are highly precise
and harm very few innocents. Some locals agree about their accuracy,
especially when compared to bombing runs by Pakistani jets.
some international law experts are questioning their legality. In June,
Philip Alston, the independent U.N. investigator on extrajudicial
killings, urged the U.S. to lay out rules and safeguards, publish
figures on civilian casualties and prove they have tried other ways to
capture or incapacitate suspects without killing them.
officials say the strikes are key to weakening al-Qaida and other
militants who mount attacks in Afghanistan, just across the border.
CIA's counterterrorism operations are precise, lawful, and effective,"
said CIA spokesman George Little, responding to questions about
The drone war is shadowy and rife with ambiguities.
forces cannot operate in Pakistan the way they do in Afghanistan, so
the pilotless aircraft introduced in 2004 are among the few weapons
available. Pakistan formally protests the strikes but is widely believed
to allow the attacks, and even to provide intelligence for some of
The U.S. has never publicly acknowledged killing or wounding
a noncombatant, or paid any compensation, and it isn't known whether
the U.S. or Pakistan track or investigate civilian deaths.
tribal regions are remote and off limits to foreigners, and journalists
work there under severe constraints, so accounts of innocent victims
cannot be independently verified. Still, their stories stoke Pakistani
public outcry, and are used by militant groups to rally support.
a Taliban collaborator can be tricky. Poor villagers are said to harbor
militants for payment, and even without such blandishments, tribal
custom obliges villagers to feed and shelter travelers. A recent study
by the Campaign for Innocent Victims in Conflict, an American advocacy
group, quoted a villager as saying he was forced to give militants
lunch, and the next day his home was hit by a missile that killed his
In March, State Department legal adviser Harold Koh
outlined for the first time America's legal justification for the drone
strikes. Without mentioning Pakistan, he said the U.S. was acting in
self-defense after being attacked on Sept. 11 and was operating within
the laws of war that call for attacks to be limited to military targets
and not to be carried out if there is excessive risk to civilians.
operations are essential," Bruce Riedel, a former CIA officer, said in
June. "The drones are part of a much broader effort to put pressure on
al-Qaida through the war in Afghanistan. They're the cutting edge of the
pressure, but they're not the only pressure."
The planned lawsuit
may be bound up in a bigger behind-the-scenes drama. According to U.S.
officials, the CIA station chief had to leave Pakistan last week partly
as a result of being named by Wazir's lawyer, Shahzad Akbar, as a
defendant in another suit he is bringing, on behalf of a North
Waziristan man who says he lost his son and brother in a drone strike.
U.S. officials reportedly have said the case may be the Pakistani spy
agency's revenge for an American lawsuit against its chief over the 2008
terror attacks on the Indian city of Mumbai. The Pakistan agency has
denied leaking the CIA man's name.
There have been 109 drone attacks this year, about 90 percent of them in North Waziristan, where Wazir lives.
strike on his village of Machi Khel happened in September 2009,
according to Wazir and his grandfather. It hit a group of men chatting
outdoors in the Wazir family compound as the day's fasting for the
Muslim holy month of Ramadan came to an end.
A house some 100
yards (meters) away, where women and children were staying, was
untouched. But Wazir, then a schoolboy, was standing close by the men
when the missile hit.
Three of his relatives were killed — two
cousins and an uncle. None had any links to militants, according to his
grandfather and another cousin.
"I was bleeding but conscious.
Someone screamed 'He is alive!' and then picked me up and put me in a
vehicle," said Wazir. "I don't remember what happened next."
next day, he was driven for five hours to the city of Peshawar, where
surgeons at the International Committee of the Red Cross amputated his
legs below the knee. He now hobbles on artificial limbs and crutches. He
also lost an eye and has not finished school. He says his family paid
up to $7,000 for his treatment.
After he returned home from
Islamabad last week an Associated Press reporter visited him. The
missile's five-foot-deep crater had been filled in and planted over with
grass, but the walls of the compound still showed shrapnel marks.
many people died in the strike beside Wazir's three relatives is not
known, nor has anyone suggested a reason they might have been targeted.
Wazir's family insists they had no links to insurgents.
Akbar is the lawyer seeking to represent Wazir in a civil suit against
U.S. officials claiming wrongful death. He says he will use witness
accounts to show the house was hit from a drone, which can be seen and
heard in flight.
Akbar, who studied law in Britain, says he
realizes there is no chance that any CIA official will show up in court
or ever pay up if damages are awarded. But he hopes for a symbolic
victory and some unwanted headlines for the CIA.
He vehemently denies being a pawn in rivalries between spy agencies.
"I believe in values such as freedom and the due process of the law," he said.
Associated Press writers Adam Goldman in Washington, Rasool Dawar
in Machi Khel and Munir Ahmed and Zarar Khan in Islamabad contributed
to this report.