If you’re already disappointed in the Obama administration’s many illegal and unconstitutional actions in the war on terror, prepare to be even more disappointed. The administration has denied a visa to a Pakistani attorney who represents victims of the American drone bombing campaign in that country. He was invited to speak at a conference in DC next week but is being kept out of the country to prevent him from doing so.
Pakistani lawyer Shahzad Akbar has been invited to speak at an International Drone Summit in Washington DC on April 28, but the U.S. government is failing to grant him a visa.
The Summit is organized by the peace group CODEPINK and the legal advocacy organizations Reprieve and the Center for Constitutional Rights. Akbar, co-founder of the Pakistani human rights organization Foundation for Fundamental Rights, is important to the Summit because of his work providing legal aid to victims of CIA-operated drone strikes. Akbar filed the first case in Pakistan on behalf of family members of civilian victims and has been a critical force in litigating and advocating on victims’ behalf.
While Akbar has traveled to the United States in the past, he has not been granted permission to return since becoming an outspoken critic of drone attacks in Pakistan that have killed hundreds of civilians. He was previously invited to speak about drone strikes at Columbia University in New York, but he never received a response to the visa application he filed in May 2011. One year later, he is still waiting for a response, and he has been unable to get an answer from the U.S. Embassy in Islamabad as to why his application is being held up.
“Denying a visa to people like me is denying Americans their right to know what the U.S. government and its intelligence community are doing to children, women and other civilians in this part of the world,” Akbar said. “The CIA, which operates the drones in Pakistan, does not want anyone challenging their killing spree. But the American people should have the right to know.”
The CIA’s secret drone program has killed hundreds of people in Pakistan with no due process and no accountability. Akbar represents families whose innocent loved ones have been killed and maimed in these drone attacks.
This action fits perfectly into Obama’s exceptionless pattern of avoiding transparency and accountability for any actions taken by the U.S. government in the name of fighting terrorism. It may be that the drone campaign is worth doing, of course, but let’s at least have a public debate about it. Let’s at least put all the facts on the table and allow the advocates on both sides have their say. Let’s not hide behind assertions of legal privilege and unjustified visa denials in order to avoid having that debate.