Pakistani anti-drone campaigner Kareem Khan was released Friday more than a week after he was abducted from his home — surviving what he describes as a harrowing ordeal in which he was chained, tortured, beaten, and interrogated about his investigations of U.S. drone strikes. He credits an international public pressure campaign on the Pakistani government for his freedom.
Khan was kidnapped from his home on February 5th in front of his wife and young children by 15 to 20 men wearing police uniforms and plain clothes, and for over a week his whereabouts were unknown.
"When I was picked up I thought I would never see my family again, that I would never be free again because of all the stories I have heard about disappeared people," Khan said on Friday following his release. "Now that I have been released and have seen the news, the efforts of activists, I know it is because of them that I am free, and I would like to thank them.”
Upon his abduction, Khan says he was moved from one undisclosed location to another, with a blindfold placed over his eyes during transport. According to UK-based charity Reprieve, "While detained, Mr. Khan was interrogated, beaten and tortured. He was placed in chains and repeatedly questioned about his investigations into drone strikes, his knowledge of drone strike victims and his work advocating on their behalf."
"They tortured me. They punched me on the head, they slap my arms and they beat me with a stick," Khan told reporters Friday night, according to AFP.
Khan says he is unable to identify his kidnappers, telling reporters, "It is difficult to say if they were army, police or civilians."
Yet, his release follows an order by a Pakistani judge on Wednesday that the country's intelligence forces, which are overseen by the Ministry of the Interior, produce Khan.
Khan's supporters are asking whether the U.S. played a role in ordering Khan's abduction, given this summer's revelation that the Obama administration directly pressed the government of Yemen to continue to jail Yemeni Journalist Abdulelah Haider Shaye, who uncovered a U.S. drone strike that killed dozens of Yemeni civilians.
"In addition to investigating what happened to [Khan], we should be asking about the role of the U.S. government," said Robert Naiman, policy director for Just Foreign Policy, in an interview with Common Dreams. "The Yemeni journalist who was held was done so at the hands of U.S. government. Journalists should be asking about this."
At the time of his abduction, Khan was already a victim of a U.S. drone strike. He lost his 35-year-old brother, Asif Iqbal, and his 18-year-old son, Zaneullah Khan, when a U.S. drone leveled his home in Machikhel, a village in North Waziristan, on December 31, 2009.
In the years since, Khan has been a prominent campaigner and witness against drones. He previously took legal action against the CIA demanding a halt to U.S. drone killings. At the time of his abduction, he was in the midst of legal proceedings against the Pakistani government for its failure to investigate the murder of his son and brother.
Khan was scheduled to travel to Europe to meet with German, Dutch and British parliamentarians later this week to testify on his personal experience and journalistic reporting of U.S. drone strikes. He says that, despite his ordeal, he plans to move forward with his trip.
"The lesson learned though this experience is that we must always raise our voices," said Shahzad Akbar, who is Khan's lawyer. "We need to take this stand for each and every person who disappears, it is the only way to force those in power to listen. That is why I am so thankful to all the local and international activists who spoke out for Kareem.”