Two former CIA employees will be charged with murder, terrorism, conspiracy, and waging war in Pakistan regarding the agency’s highly-criticized drone program in the Middle East. This week, Judge Shaukat Aziz Siddiqui of the Islamabad high court in Pakistan ordered former CIA station chief, Jonathan Banks, and former CIA general counsel, John Rizzo (who gave the legal approval for the strikes), to be charged.
Though the United States has performed over 400 drone strikes in Pakistan since 2004, the charges stem specifically from a 2009 incident that killed the son and brother of Kareem Khan, a tribesman in North Waziristan. The United States and Pakistani governments claimed those killed were militants but offered no proof. Khan denies those allegations.
When Khan moved to sue the then-undercover station chief, Banks, protests erupted (some believed Pakistan had leaked the identity of Banks, which Pakistani officials vehemently denied –
it is still unclear how his identity became known). It wasn’t until Banks received death threats that he was moved, this time to chair Iran operations back at CIA headquarters in Langley, Virginia. After he was found to create a “hostile” environment, he was moved to an intelligence arm of the Pentagon.
Rizzo ultimately left the CIA and wrote a book about his experiences. In the midst of the scandalous CIA torture report release last year, he admitted that the agency had inflicted “unauthorized” torture (he has also defended waterboarding and sleep deprivation).
The charges against the two men come as the U.S. drone program in Pakistan appears to be winding down. Its peak was in 2010 and according to the New America Foundation’s International Security Program, the last one was conducted on January 29 of this year. It killed 6 suspected militants.
One of the most glaring problems with the United States drone program (aside from the fact that it violates the sovereignty of foreign nations) is its all too frequent habit of killing civilians like Khan’s relatives. The program has sparked outrage among citizens for strikes that have killed thousands, including hundreds of civilians and children.
Worse, the United States craftily changed its definition of a militant to mean any male over the age of 18. This has allowed the statistics on killings to be skewed and manipulated. Even so, the drone strikes – which exploded under President Obama – are viewed as possible war crimes.
Unfortunately, the high court’s order for charges will likely be null and void unless the United States is willing to send Banks and Rizzo to Pakistan to face their charges. It is all but guaranteed that this will not happen. Nevertheless, the move reflects growing discontent with United States foreign policy.
More than simple dissatisfaction with American militarism, the charges highlight a glaring double standard between how the United States addresses issues of accountability. On one hand, the federal government demands that those who violate its laws be swiftly returned to the United States for punishment. Such was the case with NSA-CIA whistleblower, Edward Snowden. The U.S. went to far as to ground the plane of a foreign head of state in its quest for him. It also aggressively attempted to have WikiLeaks founder, Julian Assange, extradited to face charges for his revelations. At the same time, when it comes to holding its own employees accountable for tangible death and havoc, the government’s respect for “law and order’ is nowhere to be found. Rather, it’s buried in the rubble of drone-ravaged villages.
In spite of the unlikelihood of the charges leading to punishment, Kareem Khan was satisfied with the high court’s ruling. He said:
Today’s order is a victory for all those innocent civilians that have been killed in U.S.-led drone strikes in Pakistan…I sincerely hope that authorities now will do their job and proceed against the culprits.