15 December 2010

Suing the drone masters

That American drones are killing innocent Pakistanis is not news. When you fire a missile into the house of a Taliban or al Qaeda leader, you can never discount taking out members of his family or friends. And of course there may not even be a Taliban or al Qaeda leader in the house in the first place. This drone-killing is not popular in Pakistan, but with the government privately complicit with the Americans, there hasn't been much the victims' friends and loved ones can do. Now a Pakistani journalist is trying to change that.
Karim Khan, whose brother and son were killed in a CIA drone attack on their home in North Waziristan last December, has lodged a civil suit for $500-million in damages against the U.S. government. Khan claims that the target of the attack, Taliban commander Haji Omar, wasn't in the house and that his relatives had nothing to do with the Taliban.

Khan has also called for the arrest of Jonathan Banks, the CIA station chief in Islamabad, on a charge of murder. He has applied to the Islamabad police to prevent Banks from leaving Pakistan, saying "He should be arrested and executed in this country." His lawyer plans to file a constitutional petition in an effort to end the attacks. A report issued to the UN Human Rights Council earlier this year accused the U.S. of inventing a "law of 9/11" and warned the attacks left CIA employees exposed to prosecution "under the domestic law of any country in which they conduct targeted drone killings."

The report also warned that the drone program could create a "PlayStation mentality" (the drones are remotely operated by private contractors at CIA headquarters in Virginia) that could spread to other countries. If the Americans can do it with impunity, why not others? The U.S. are not alone in possessing drones. At least 40 other countries, including Turkey, Russia, India and Iran, have drones although not all have the technology to fire guided missiles from them. Yet.

Mr. Khan's chances of successfully suing the CIA are, of course, remote. PlayStation war offers the United States a risk-free method of suppressing troublesome tribesmen at the ends of the empire, and they won't easily give it up. Nonetheless, Khan may have started something and, in any case, with a lawsuit he's speaking a language Americans are very familiar with.

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