Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Shahzad Akbar on (not) coming to America

Update: The State Department has finally granted Akbar a visa. Check out his statement.

Shahzad Akbar is a lawyer in Pakistan who represents some of the many civilian victims of the Obama administration's drone war in his country. Later this month, he is scheduled to speak at a conference in Washington on the use of unmanned aerial vehicles to wage war and, in the words of State Department lawyer Harold Koh, deliver habeas-free "justice" to America's perceived enemies. However, in what, gosh, has to be a coincidence, Akbar has been denied the visa he needs to enter the Greatest Force for Freedom in Human History.

Last week, I asked Akbar what that says about President Obama's commitment to peace and freedom. What follows is a copy of the exchange, edited for clarity:

Do you have any evidence that your visa is being denied because of your views -- e.g. contacts at the embassy who may have told you that, others who have gone through the same experience -- or is that just your assumption? Are such delays or non-responses atypical?

I applied for this visa about 14 months ago on invitation of Columbia University and at that time, the dean of the law school checked with his contact at the State Department and was informed that it wasn't the State Department which is holding my visa but a 'certain agency' (I assumed CIA) which I seem to have annoyed. 

This time I reached out to US Deputy Ambassador Richard Hoagland saying that I believe that the US has blacklisted me, preventing me from obtaining a US visa, which I have not been given despite the passing of a year. I got a reply from the embassy saying that my visa is still under 'administrative process'. It was further added at a later stage that it's Homeland Security which is holding my visa and the State Department has no role in its delay/denial.

It is also interesting to note that my last visa to US was official visa which was given to me within 3 working days of applying.

Before my drone litigation, I had good interaction with the US Embassy political section and many would interact with me to discuss various legal and political issues, but after my drone litigation and criticism of the CIA I became 'persona non grata'.

In my personal opinion, in the US when it comes to matters outside the US, the security establishment i.e CIA and related agencies have unfettered discretion without any check. 

If it's true your visa is being denied because of your outspokenness on the drone war, what does that suggest about White House claims that remarkably few civilians have been killed? What does it say about the Obama administration's commitment to transparency and open debate?

It says simply one thing: that the White House has become hostage to the CIA's covert wars and unfettered discretions. Perhaps President Obama is naive to believe that no civilians are being killed in drone attacks, but he is too smart for that. I believe he is lying to American people. He has lost the sense of reality in his efforts to bring US troops home and has forgotten that the people he is killing through the robotic warfare are human beings too and they have rights as well, like due process and the right to life. Ironically, this whole exercise is not even making America safer as more people around the world now hate America for its drone attacks and places like Guantanamo and Bagram. 

What, exactly, have you uncovered with respect to the drone war and in what ways does it challenge the official Washington narrative? 

The first Obama strike was initially reported to have killed a high-value target. Our efforts and work have unearthed that the people killed were the family of Fahim Qureshi, a 15-year-old pre-engineering student who got injured himself, losing one eye as well. He also lost his Uncle Khalil who was in wheel chair for many years. Fahim also lost his 12-year-old cousin, Imran Khan. These people are here ready to face any allegation from United States, asking if they are terrorists then the US should bring evidence against them. They are waiting for justice for wrong done to them. There are many other cases where we are challenging the US narrative of killing high-value targets and this is what annoys the US about us.

The purpose of my visit to the US is to let the American people know what their government is doing in this part of the world and why people have strong reservations about America. My visit is in the context of Americans' right to know, which is being denied. Obama wants that Americans should only listen and believe what he tells them -- this, I must add, is the worst type of tyranny ever imposed by an elected President of the United States, which used to be an emblem of freedom of speech.


  1. Excellent interview, wish it was longer!

  2. "...it wasn't the State Department which is holding my visa but a 'certain agency'"
    "I got a reply from the embassy saying that my visa is still under 'administrative process'. It was further added at a later stage that it's Homeland Security which is holding my visa and the State Department has no role in its delay/denial."

    — Typical bureaucratic shuffling and confusion, the express purpose of which is to obfuscate the issue and deny any responsibility. In this way, Akbar cannot point to any one person or agency to which he can address his claims, and everything is left in limbo. Very effective.

    I suspect it's Obama, who might be pulling the same strings he apparently pulled when he made that phone call to Yemen in order to keep the journalist Abdulelah Haider Shaye behind bars. Recall as well his reported "love affair" with the CIA, and how Patraeus reportedly wants to step up its "signature strikes" armed drone program in Yemen. :
    “Why is it more humane to kill people than put them in a prison? But can you blame him? He’s not getting any pushback on it,” says Roggio, who suggests the reason has a lot to do with Obama’s being a Democrat.