Hi there,

If you think Democracy Now!’s reporting is a critical line of defense against war, climate catastrophe and authoritarianism, please make your donation of $10 or more right now. Today, a generous donor will TRIPLE your donation, which means it’ll go 3x as far to support our independent journalism. Democracy Now! is funded by you, and that’s why we’re counting on your donation to keep us going strong. Please give today. Every dollar makes a difference—in fact, gets tripled! Thank you so much.
-Amy Goodman

Non-commercial news needs your support.

We rely on contributions from you, our viewers and listeners to do our work. If you visit us daily or weekly or even just once a month, now is a great time to make your monthly contribution.

Please do your part today.


I Was Beaten, Tortured: Pakistani Anti-Drone Activist Karim Khan on Being Abducted by Masked Men

StoryFebruary 28, 2014
Watch Full Show
Media Options

Pakistani anti-drone activist Karim Khan was abducted February 5, just before he was due to travel to Europe to speak out about U.S. drone strikes. He joins us to describe how he was held for nine days. During that time he says he was repeatedly tortured and beaten. In 2009, a U.S. drone killed Khan’s brother and son. He joins us from London, where he traveled to to meet with British lawmakers to raise concerns about the U.S. drone program. “They attacked our mosques, they attacked our schools, they attacked our schoolchildren, they attacked our teachers,” Khan says. “So everything is completely destroyed by these drone strikes.” We also speak with Khan’s lawyer, Shahzad Akbar. “This is what the human face of the victim is, and it is important that the American people are told about who these people are,” Akbar says. “They are being targeted in the name of national security, [but] what we see on the ground is that it is not really serving the national security interests of anyone.”

Related Story

StoryNov 20, 2015Exclusive: Air Force Whistleblowers Risk Prosecution to Warn Drone War Kills Civilians, Fuels Terror
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: We turn to Pakistani anti-drone activist Karim Khan. He made headlines earlier this month when he was abducted just before he was due to travel to Europe to speak out about U.S. drone strikes. In 2009, a U.S. drone killed his brother and his son. On February 5th, Khan was abducted at gunpoint from his home. He was hooded, shackled and then driven several hours to a location where he was held in a basement cell. He was held for nine days. During that time, he says, he was repeatedly tortured and beaten. He was then released on February 14th. This week, Karim Khan traveled to London, where he met with British lawmakers. He joined us from London to describe his ordeal, along with his attorney, Shahzad Akbar, who also joined us. I began by asking Khan what happened to him February 5th.

KARIM KHAN: At that time, I was sleeping at my home. It was 12:30. Some people entered my house, and they took me. I asked them, “Who are you?” But they said, “Shut up. Don’t speak.” So they took me, and they blindfolded and also cuffed handed, and also they put some cape on my head and also a blanket. So they took me in an undisclosed place, and after one night they took me from that place to another place and kept me in a tight-held cell. There, I spent eight days. So, after this, they released me.

AMY GOODMAN: Were you beaten?

KARIM KHAN: They abused me, and they also beat me, and they tortured me. So, they repeatedly asked me some names, but I don’t know them. They said that “They know you.” But I said, “But I don’t know them.” It was very strange questions. When I remember, it was very strange questions.

AMY GOODMAN: Shahzad Akbar, you’re the attorney for Karim Khan, as well as the attorney for other drone strike victims or families of those who have been killed. Talk about, first, what happened to Karim. Talk about the case of his family, and then what it means to get word out.

SHAHZAD AKBAR: I think the whole problem with drone is that the U.S. government doesn’t really want to talk about what’s really going on ground, because what Karim Khan’s story and Rehman family’s story and so many other drone—civilian drone victims’ stories tells us, 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.

Now, what Karim Khan’s case is, it’s a clear case when we do not ask questions, and the governments are not accountable, and they can do whatever they wish to do. The United States government, first of all, killed Karim Khan’s son and brother in 2009, 31st December. And later on, when he tried to raise questions and awareness through his legal cases—and many others joined his legal battle—what we have seen recently is that when he was about to travel to Europe to speak with European parliamentarians and parliamentarians in the U.K., someone tried to stop it. We do not—we do not know who they were, because, again, there is no transparency, there is no accountability. And the powers that be, they seem to be acting with complete impunity. We went straight into court when Karim Khan was abducted. The court took it really seriously. The civil society, media—we had full support of everyone. And by the—by all these efforts, it was possible that he was released within such a short span of time. But I think the important message here is that if the voice is raised and the facts are brought before public and the court of laws, then there can be some difference, and Karim Khan’s release in this short span of time is one example of that.

AMY GOODMAN: What is the case that Karim Khan has brought against the governments of Pakistan and the United States?

SHAHZAD AKBAR: Well, there are two different cases. First of all, there’s a case of wrongful death of his son and brother, and he’s suing for compensation. The second case is Karim Khan is challenging U.S. drone strike program in Pakistan, and specifically alleging the act of murder on CIA’s station chief in Islamabad, because in 2009 the person who was CIA station chief, Karim Khan’s case says that he believes that this person is the main conspirator who killed his son and brother, who were innocent and civilians, and the U.S. is not at war.

Now, an important issue in this case is that the Pakistani police and authorities refused to investigate and prosecute CIA officials in Islamabad, but what the Islamabad High Court has recently declared is that they do have jurisdiction, because Pakistani police was claiming that they do not have a jurisdiction over a matter which happens in Waziristan, which is in the Federally Administered Tribal Area, and that is outside the legal jurisdiction of Pakistani courts and Pakistani police. But the Islamabad court has held very recently, while actually Karim Khan was in captivity, that they do have jurisdiction. And the offense alleged is an offense of murder, and therefore they have to investigate, and in case of finding any truth to the matter, they have to prosecute the person.

AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to play a clip of the Rehman family, who we had on Democracy Now! This is 13-year-old Zubair and his nine-year-old sister. They were sitting with their father, Rafiq.

ZUBAIR UR REHMAN: [translated] I had gone to school that day, and when I came back, I had a snack, and I offered my prayers. And my grandma asked me to come outside and help her pick the vegetables.

AMY GOODMAN: You were hit by this drone that killed your grandmother?

ZUBAIR UR REHMAN: [translated] Yes, I had seen a drone, and two missiles hit down where my grandmother was standing in front of me. And she was blown into pieces, and I was injured to my left leg.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, Nabila, the two of you were not the only ones of your family that were injured, as well. Could you talk about your—what happened to you, what you recall, and your reaction?

NABILA UR REHMAN: [translated] It was the day before Eid, so I was outside with my grandmother, and she was teaching me how to tell the difference between okra that was ripe and not ripe. We were going to prepare it for our Eid dinner the next day. And then I had heard a dum-dum noise. Everything became dark. And I had seen two fireballs come down from the sky.

AMY GOODMAN: You all testified before Congress. You were one of the first people to do this. Rafiq Rehman, what is your message to America?

RAFIQ UR REHMAN: [translated] What I’d like to say to them is: Please find a way to end these drones, because it’s not only affecting me and my children, and it’s not only because they were injured; it’s affecting their future. I feel—I worry that their education will be disrupted and that they will not want to continue.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And were you ever—have you ever been contacted either by U.S. government officials or by the Pakistani government officials to explain to you why—why this attack occurred?

AMY GOODMAN: Why your mother was killed?

RAFIQ UR REHMAN: [translated] I did communicate with a local political officer of my village to find a reason and answer, but he was unable to give me an answer.

AMY GOODMAN: Have you been compensated for the death of your mother, for your children’s grandmother?

RAFIQ UR REHMAN: [translated] No one has given me anything.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, Nabila, you’re nine years old. How have things changed for you since the attack? How’s your—going out again, out into the fields alone, do you fear again other possible attacks?

NABILA UR REHMAN: [translated] Ever since the strike, I’m just scared. I’m always scared. All of us little kids, we’re just scared to go outside.

AMY GOODMAN: Now I would like to play a clip of President Obama addressing U.S. drone warfare at National Defense University in Washington, D.C.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: And before any strike is taken, there must be near certainty that no civilians will be killed or injured—the highest standard we can set. Yes, the conflict with al-Qaeda, like all armed conflict, invites tragedy, but by narrowly targeting our action against those who want to kill us and not the people they hide among, we are choosing the course of action least likely to result in the loss of innocent life.

AMY GOODMAN: “Least likely to result in the loss of innocent life.” Shahzad Akbar, can you respond?

SHAHZAD AKBAR: President Obama is a great orator, but he has to support his argument with some facts, because if you look at what happened to Nabila and you look at so many other cases, which have not just been investigated by us, but many other organizations, like Amnesty International, as well, that there are drone strikes as double-tap strikes. This is not a liberal rule of law favoring the United States, which go on and acts like double-tap strikes or signature strikes. In double-tap strikes, the rescuers are targeted—that, one, you attack one place, and then wait for rescuers to come, and then you attack second time. You do not attack people on behavior and pattern and how they’re dressed, how they look like, and then you make a guesswork of attacking people. So this is clear—and this all happened in President Obama’s tenure.

AMY GOODMAN: Karim Khan, can you talk about the effect of the drone strikes in your area? How do people feel?

KARIM KHAN: It destroyed everything—for example, our education, our health, our—everything is destroyed by these drone strikes. Our trade is completely destroyed, and our schools, our health institution. Everything is destroyed by these drone strikes.

AMY GOODMAN: Explain further the way people respond. How often do these drone strikes happen? How often are people killed?

KARIM KHAN: They attacked our mosques. They attacked our schools. They attacked our schoolchildren. They attacked our teachers. So, every—every one is completely—everything is completely destroyed by these drone strikes. If we see our forest, forest trees are completely destroyed. Our agriculture is completely destroyed. So, everything is destroyed by these drone strikes. And people are turned to anti-America and anti-Europe due to these drone strikes. So everything is completely destroyed.

AMY GOODMAN: The United States, Karim Khan, says they are doing this to rout out al-Qaeda. What is your response? To protect U.S. national security.

KARIM KHAN: You see that in these drone strikes they are not only targeted al-Qaeda or Taliban, they killed innocent people. For example, if they targeted or killed 70 or up to 80 al-Qaeda or Taliban leaders, they killed other innocent people. For example, they attacked my house and killed my brother and my son. They were [inaudible]. And they also attacked before my [inaudible] on my home. Before the attack on my home, they attacked another home in my village. This attack was on a person who was—his lower body was paralyzed. He was—sits here in wheelchair, and he was a driver by profession. They attacked this person and killed him and also his son and his nephew and his cousin. So it’s very strange. They are announcing that “we killed commanders or any person who are from Taliban or from al-Qaeda,” but in fact they are killing innocent people and announcing that “we are killing Taliban and al-Qaeda members.” But in fact they are killing innocent people.

AMY GOODMAN: Karim Khan, how does your community feel about the United States? How did they feel before the drone strikes? How do they feel now?

KARIM KHAN: We don’t know about America before these difficulties and these clashes so much more, but after these drone strikes and these difficulties, we said that they are—they are criminal. They are cruel people. They have no such things about humanity. And they destroyed humanity. For example, as man in search of lies have rights, but we, the Muslim, the Pakistani Muslim, and the tribal people have no rights in this world. They are targeting us. They are declaring us terrorists before coming in this world. For example, determined baby—they killed her, and they declared her a terrorist. So, it’s very strange, and it’s not good. And we, the people, are—hate America and hate the air forces and their people. And we are thinking that there is no care for human, and there are no humanity in these people. So, it’s very bad, on our part, that they are killing our innocent people.

AMY GOODMAN: And, Shahzad Akbar, what are your plans now and moving forward? Do you see any progress in your lawsuits and in changing U.S. policy?

SHAHZAD AKBAR: I think these lawsuits, on one sense, are making some progress, in a way that the number of drone strikes in Pakistan have gone down. Now, we don’t know that—what is the real reason, but the fact remains on the ground that the numbers have gone down. And since President Obama’s last year announcement that there are going to be no more signature strikes, we have to still investigate on ground that if there are more signature strikes taking place. But they seem to definitely have gone down.

In terms of the legal battle, I think the most important task ahead of us is to get some sort of justice for the civilian victims, because this is an issue which the U.S. needs to address and cannot shy away from. Whatever strategic benefit President Obama thinks he has achieved, that is in the past now. And what is left for the future is the case of civilian victims. And according to a Peshawar High Court finding which came out last year, there are more than 1,400 civilian victims of U.S. drone strikes in Pakistan. Now, this is something which President Obama can ignore and leave it when he’s leaving in 2014 from the region, or he can address it, because I think this is something which will be better for the future.

AMY GOODMAN: Karim Khan, will you continue to speak out? You’ve certainly gotten a very painful warning. Are you afraid for your life?

KARIM KHAN: Yes, inshallah, I will continue to make these efforts ’til I get justice. I will continue to make these efforts.

AMY GOODMAN: That was Pakistani anti-drone activist Karim Khan and his lawyer, Shahzad Akbar. They joined us from London after Khan traveled there to meet with British lawmakers to speak out about U.S. drone strikes, including one that killed his brother and son in 2009. Karim Khan was abducted February 5th in Pakistan and held for nine days, just before he was due to travel to Europe.

And that does it for our show. We’re on the road soon. On Tuesday, March 11th, I’ll be speaking at UMass Amherst at Bowker Auditorium at 7:00 p.m. On March 13th, Thursday, I’ll be in Flagstaff at Northern Arizona University, the Cline Library at 7:00 p.m. On Friday, March 14th, I’m in Santa Fe speaking at the Lensic. And on Saturday, March 15th, I’ll be in Denver, Colorado. Then it’s St. Louis on March 29th. You can see all the details at our website at democracynow.org.

The original content of this program is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License. Please attribute legal copies of this work to democracynow.org. Some of the work(s) that this program incorporates, however, may be separately licensed. For further information or additional permissions, contact us.

Up Next

Exclusive: Air Force Whistleblowers Risk Prosecution to Warn Drone War Kills Civilians, Fuels Terror

Non-commercial news needs your support

We rely on contributions from our viewers and listeners to do our work.
Please do your part today.
Make a donation