Ex-CIA lawyer’s arrest sought for approving drone attacks in Pakistan

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Human rights lawyers and victims’ relatives are seeking an arrest warrant against a former CIA legal director who allegedly approved drone attacks in Pakistan that killed hundreds.

­The attempt to seek an international arrest warrant for former CIA acting general counsel John Rizzo, 63, is being led by British human rights lawyer Clive Stafford Smith of the advocacy group Reprieve, as well as lawyers in Pakistan.

On Monday, relatives of victims of a covert US drone war against Al Qaeda and Taliban in Pakistan filed a complaint with police in the capital.

Rizzo is being pursued after he admitted in an interview with Newsweek magazine that under a practice started by the Bush administration, he had approved one drone attack order a month on targets in Pakistan since 2004.

A study by the New America Foundation, a Washington-based think tank, says that the amount of strikes has quadrupled since US President Barack Obama took office, and estimates that about 2,500 people have been killed in attacks on targets in Pakistan since 2004.

Last year there were 118 attacks after Obama expanded the use of drones in 2009, while 2011 has already seen at least 42.

­“Age of videogame killing”

Using armed drones enables the US to strike targets inside Pakistan, which they legally could not do with piloted military aircraft, says former CIA officer Philip Giraldi.

“Striking a country with which America is not at war means that the whole process is something that is very dubious,” he stated.

The man who approved the attacks is unlikely to stand trial, argues Giraldi.

“This is one of those interesting cases that can go in several directions,” he said. “The US doesn’t cooperate with the International Criminal Court on this kind of case precisely for this reason, so John Rizzo is unlikely to be turned over to a court to face charges against him. But on the other hand, there are some jurisdictions in Europe – Spain, for example – where anyone can walk in and make a case against virtually anyone, claiming that they’ve committed war crimes. And if Mr. Rizzo ever has the misfortune of passing through Spain, he can well be arrested.”

­“Drone strikes quadruple the Pakistani Taliban in numbers”

“They acknowledge that they are killing people and they do not even know their names,” claimed US anti-war activist Fred Branfman, who exposed the CIA Secret War in Laos and today writes extensively on US military and foreign policy.

Activists state that those drone strikes have quadrupled the ranks of the Pakistani Taliban because of the anger they have caused. Furthermore, they argue, Pakistani officials are no longer certain about the security of the country’s nuclear weapons, which are already considered to be the least secure in the world.

“The result of this drone strike campaign is vastly increasing the danger in the US of a conventional or a nuclear terrorist attack,” said Branfman.

“By carrying out those drone strike in Pakistan or Somalia, the US is operating extra-legally,” stated Tara Murray, a staff attorney at Reprieve, the advocacy group.

“We have numbers coming from Pakistan that indicate that for every suspected militant that is being killed, 140 innocent civilians die as a result of these strikes,” she added.