«Ban karo, Ban karo, drone hamle Ban karo!» a group of anti-drone activists shouted outside the Pakistani embassy Wednesday afternoon. The chant in Urdu, Pakistan’s official language, translates to «Stop, Stop, Stop the drone attacks!»
US antiwar activists mobilized this week, after it was reported that the prominent Pakistani anti-drone activist Kareem Khan was swept up from his home in Rawalpindi last week by a group of about 20 armed men, with some wearing police uniforms, according to witnesses.
According to a press release from human rights organization Reprieve, Khan was released in the early morning hours February 14:
«After being abducted in the early morning hours of 5 February by 15-20 men, 8 of whom were in police uniform, Mr. Khan was taken to a cell in an undisclosed location. Later in the day of 5 February, he was blindfolded and driven for approximately 2-3 hours to another undisclosed location where he remained until his release. 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.
In the early hours of this morning (14 February), he was driven to the Tarnol area of Rawlpindi, where he was thrown from a van after being told not to speak to the media.»
Khan was scheduled to go before British members of parliament this week to tell his story about how both his 18-year-old son and his brother were killed in a US drone strike in the North Waziristan region of Pakistan in December 2009. The police have denied any involvement in his disappearance. According to the breaking press release from Reprieve, Khan still plans to go ahead with his trip.
Previosuly, a Pakistani court had ordered the government to produce Khan by February 20. Khan now remains with his lawyer Shahzad Akbar, who accused US and Pakistani intelligence agencies of detaining him to prevent him from telling his story to European parliamentarians. With news of Khan’s release, Akbar’s accusation’s seem to have been confirmed. Akbar is a fellow at Reprieve and represents more than 156 drone strike victims.
“What happened to Kareem Khan in last few days is nothing new in Pakistan. We are living in a state of lawlessness where the executive enjoys impunity. The lesson learned though this experience is that we must always raise our voices. 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,” Akbar said in the press release.
Akbar previously told Truthout in a phone interview, before the news of Khan’s release, that in addition to denying any involvement in the kidnapping Wednesday, in court, the police said they have filed a «missing persons» report.
«The problem is, once [government agencies] say ‘no’ they don’t have him, there’s no avenue for the family to prove if any of the agencies have him. It’s really a dark area,» Akbar said. «There are so many examples and cases [of this]. There are 4,000 missing persons cases pending in the [Pakistani] Supreme Court.»
The number is at least in the thousands, with a group formed by the relatives of the disappeared citing the number of missing at as many as 2,000, according to Agence France-Presse.
Another Pakistani family whom Akbar is representing brought tears to the eyes of Congressional representatives in October 2013, when they testified about the drone strike that killed Rafiq ur-Rehman’s mother while she was working in a field just outside his village of Tappi, in the tribal region of North Waziristan, in October 2012. It was the first testimonial from drone-strike survivors before Congress – and it almost didn’t happen.
Akbar was meant to serve as the Rehman family’s translator and guide, but his visa has been continually delayed by the State Department. He accused the State Department of blacklisting him for his drone-related legal work and trying to prevent the family from telling their story.
He told Truthout the kidnapping of Khan could be a retaliatory move in the aftermath of the Rehman family’s testimony, which has helped to foster a growing backlash against the CIA’s covert drone program.
«There’s nothing that we’re aware of, or we have been informed of, that Kareem Khan was doing wrong. The only thing Kareem was doing was that for the last three years he was working on a number of investigations, investigating other strikes, and at the same time, he was pursuing his trial . . . in a court of law,» Akbar said.
Since the drone strike that killed his son and brother, Khan has fought an ongoing legal battle with the Pakistani government and United States. In a 2010 lawsuit he filed in the Islamabad High Court, he identified the then-CIA station chief in Pakistan, Jonathan Banks, for his alleged role in the drone attack.
Khan’s brother-in-law Dilbar Jan told Agence France-Presse before Khan’s release, «The kids, my sister, my uncle and I are all very worried and anxious.» He and his young nephews witnessed Khan’s abduction. «We haven’t done anything that is anti-state, nor do any of us have bad intentions towards anyone. We’re from an educated family; we’re all government employees. I myself am a teacher. We can’t think of doing something wrong.»
Antiwar activists with the group CODEPINK delivered petitions to officials at the Pakistani embassy in Washington, DC, as well as to the assistant secretary of state for near eastern affairs, Anne Patterson. The group met with officials in the House of Representatives and on the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations and requested a meeting with Pakistani Ambassador Jalil Abbas Jilani next week.
«We think it’s very unlikely that Kareem Khan was kidnapped, abducted in the middle of the night without any consent from the United States. But his trip to Europe to talk about the drones probably triggered this abduction,» said CODEPINK cofounder Medea Benjamin.
Officials at the Pakistani embassy in Washington DC did not respond to Truthout’s request for comment.
Benjamin met with Khan in October 2012 in a delegation trip to Pakistan, which brought 34 Americans specifically to meet with drone-strike survivors.
«I’d say of all the people we met, we became the closest to Kareem Khan, because he spoke quite a lot of English, and while he was wary initially, meeting with a group of Americans, he warmed up to us when he heard of the work we were doing back in the United States to try to stop drone strikes,» Benjamin said. «We grew into having a friendship with him, and we have been very moved by his story.»
British members of parliament and human rights organizations had previosuly expressed concern about the disappearance of Khan only days before he was due to give testimony in Europe about his experiences. British parliamentarians have become increasingly concerned about the use of drones since it was revealed that intelligence officials at their Government Communications Headquarters have been providing targeting information to their US counterparts.
And in the United States, recent revelations by investigative journalists Glenn Greenwald and Jeremy Scahill in their new media venture, The Intercept, about how intelligence operatives use unreliable metadata to locate targets for drone strikes, have proved embarrassing for the Obama administration, which has continually touted the precision of the covert drone program.
«The disappearance of Kareem Khan highlights the disturbing trend of targeting those who dare to speak publicly about human rights abuses in Pakistan and raises serious concerns about the country’s possible continued complicity in the US drone program,» said Isabelle Arradon, Amnesty International’s Asia-Pacific director, in a press release.