In a move heralded as a victory and vindication, a high court in Pakistan on Tuesday ordered the police to file a criminal case against two CIA officials for their role in a 2009 drone attack that killed civilians.
The officials are Jonathan Banks, the agency's former station chief in Pakistan who left the country in 2010 after he was outed as holding the spy post, and John A. Rizzo, former general counsel.
According to the Islamabad-based legal charity Foundation for Fundamental Rights, the men face charges of murder, conspiracy, waging war against Pakistan, and terrorism. Pakistan's The Nation reports that this marks the third time the court has ordered the case against the men.
The order follows a petition by vocal drone critic Karim Khan, whose teenage son and brother were killed in the drone strike in North Waziristan, and who began in 2010 his legal battle seeking U.S. accountability for the attack.
The Islamabad High Court judge ordered the police to file the criminal case despite a plea by the Inspector General of Islamabad Capital Territory, Tahir Alam Khan, that such a move would put U.S.-Pakistan relations in peril.
CODEPINK co-founder Medea Benjamin, who met with Khan in Pakistan in 2012, described the background:
Khan’s tragic story began on December 31, 2009. He had been working as a journalist in the capital, Islamabad, leaving his family back home in Waziristan. On New Year’s Eve, he got an urgent call from his family: their home had just been struck by a US drone, and three people were dead; Kahn’s 18 year-old son Zahinullah, his brother Asif Iqbal and a visiting stonemason who was working on the village mosque.
The news reports alleged that the target of the strike had been a Taliban commander, Haji Omar, but Khan insisted that Haji Omar was nowhere near the village that night. Khan also told us that the same Taliban commander had been reported dead several times by the media. “How many times could the same man be killed?,” Khan asked.
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Khan said in a press statement released Tuesday that the court's action marks "a victory for all those innocent civilians that have been killed in US led drone strikes in Pakistan, and as a citizen of Pakistan I feel somewhat reaffirmed that perhaps people like me from Waziristan might also be able to get justice for the wrongs being done to them. I sincerely hope that authorities now will do their job and proceed against the culprits."
Ahead of a 2014 visit to Europe to speak about the impact of drones, Khan was kidnapped from his home and beaten.
Khan's lawyer, Shahzad Akbar with the Foundation for Fundamental Rights, spoke with Democracy Now! last year about Khan's mysterious abduction, and said his client was among those that show "that these strikes are not precisions, as President Obama would like to sell this to people in America, because this is what the human face of the victims is. And it’s important that American people are told about who these people are—they are being targeted in the name of national security—because what we see on ground, that it is not really serving a national security interest of anyone, be it United States or their ally Pakistan, which is a front-line state in this war against terror. And it’s really counterproductive, and it’s not really making any friends."
In a statement Tuesday, Akbar called the court's order a vindication for innocent victims of U.S. drone strikes.
"There is no doubt under Pakistani and International law that the US officials are committing an act of murder through drone strikes in Pakistan and today's decision simply vindicate this very point and after this order all those who have been killed in drone strikes have a right to proceed in similar criminal actions against the CIA officials and others involved.
"This remarkable order also highlights the strength of independence of judiciary in Pakistan which is truly protecting the rights of citizens of Pakistan under the Constitution," Akbar stated.
The Guardian notes, however, that "[w]ith no chance of either of the two Americans traveling to Pakistan to face their day in court, the case is unlikely to go anywhere."
The Bureau of Investigative Journalism estimates that CIA drone strikes since 2004 in Pakistan have killed as many as 3,945 people, including as many as 960 civilians.