US Ambassador Cameron Munter threatened with legal action over CIA drone killings of Pakistani children

December 9, 2011

An Islamabad human rights lawyer has written to the US Ambassador to Pakistan, asking him to either explain his role in a CIA drone strike which killed two children or face legal action over his part in the murder. Mirza Shahzad Akbar, a barrister and Director of the Foundation For Fundamental Rights (FFR), has demanded a full explanation from Cameron Munter of his role in the murder of Tariq Aziz, 16, and his cousin Waheed Rehman, 12, on October 31, 2011 by a missile fired from a US drone.Under current US protocols, the CIA checks with the US Ambassador in Islamabad before launching any attack against the people of Pakistan. The Ambassador, Cameron Munter, then gives his opinion as to whether the attack should go ahead. There is no doubt that the attacks are illegal under international law, as well as the law of Pakistan. Ambassador Munter is therefore directly implicated as a co-conspirator in the ongoing crimes being committed against people in the country’s border regions.FFR and Reprieve contend that the ambassador does not enjoy diplomatic immunity under the Vienna Conventions as this is a secret, illegal and undeclared war in which hundred of civilians have been murdered. FFR and Reprieve are calling on Ambassador Munter to answer the following questions:1. Does he deny the Wall Street Journal report that he is being consulted on all drone strikes in Pakistan before they happen?2. Did he concur with the strike that killed Tariq and Waheed on October 31, 2011?3. If so, does he feel that he received false intelligence?4. Does he believe that an ambassador has immunity from criminal or civil liability for on-going crimes being committed in the country where he is posted?The US Ambassador has been given until December 16 to respond to Mr Akbar’s letter or else face immediate legal action against him – both in criminal and in civil courts.16-year-old Tariq and his 12-year-old cousin Waheed were murdered by a CIA drone strike just three days after Tariq visited Islamabad for dialogue concerning the agency’s use of unmanned attack aircraft in North West Pakistan. They were killed when a missile fired by one of the US’ remotely-operated drones hit their vehicle near their home in North Waziristan on Monday, 31 October 2011. On the previous Friday, Tariq had attended a jirga – or council – in Islamabad, organized by FFR, at which the elders of communities in Pakistan’s Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) met for the first time with Western lawyers from London-based charity Reprieve to discuss the CIA’s secret bombing campaign in their area, which has claimed hundreds of civilian lives. Tariq decided to join a Reprieve project aimed at ensuring a greater transparency in the CIA process. He wanted to take pictures of the aftermath of drone strikes in order to help document the damage they caused, and seek to bring an end to them through peaceful means.When his car was hit, Tariq and his cousin had been traveling to a village near their home town of Mirali (Mubarak shahi) to pick up Tariq’s aunt. The missile reportedly struck when they were just 200 metres from his aunt’s house. The two boys were alone, and there is no evidence that either had anything to do with terrorism.Shahzad Akbar of the Islamabad-based Foundation for Fundamental Rights said: “The Ambassador is complicit in various crimes, ranging from murder to conducting an illegal war against Pakistan. Our research indicates that he does not enjoy diplomatic immunity for such on-going crimes, and if the Ambassador does not provide us with a satisfactory explanation for what he is doing, we will employ the rule of law to prevent any more killing.”Clive Stafford Smith, Director of Reprieve, said: “Either Ambassador Munter sanctioned the assassination of Tariq and his cousin, in which case he has committed a crime, probably based on false intelligence, or he opposed it, in which case the CIA is doubly guilty.  But diplomats cannot go around conspiring to commit murder in the country where they are posted.  Imagine what would happen if the new Pakistan Ambassador to Washington, Sherry Rehman, announced that she was authorizing the assassination of people in Texas on a daily basis – she would be hauled down to Houston to face the death penalty.”ENDS1. For further information please contact Shahzad Akbar on +92 312 5055971; or Donald Campbell in Reprieve’s press office on +44 (0) 207 427 1082 / +44 (0) 7791 755 4152. The letter from Shahzad Akbar to Ambassador Munter can be found on Reprieve’s website.3. Photos of Tariq Aziz, taken at the jirga in Islamabad, can be found on Reprieve’s website: President Obama’s counter-terror adviser, John O Brennan, claimed in June that “there hasn’t been a single collateral death because of the exceptional proficiency, precision of the capabilities we’ve been able to develop.” According to the New York Times, “other officials say that extraordinary claim still holds.” (‘C.I.A. Is Disputed on Civilian Toll in Drone Strikes’, NYT, 11 August 2011)5. AFP initially reported the strike as having killed four suspected militants, according to unnamed security officials (‘US drone kills three in N.W. Pakistan: officials’, AFP, 1 November 2011).6. Reprieve, a legal action charity, uses the law to enforce the human rights of prisoners, from death row to Guantánamo Bay. Reprieve investigates, litigates and educates, working on the frontline, to provide legal support to prisoners unable to pay for it themselves. Reprieve promotes the rule of law around the world, securing each person’s right to a fair trial and saving lives.  Clive Stafford Smith is the founder of Reprieve and has spent 25 years working on behalf of people facing the death penalty in the USA.Reprieve’s current casework involves representing 15 prisoners in the US prison at Guantánamo Bay, assisting over 70 prisoners facing the death penalty around the world, and conducting ongoing investigations into the rendition and the secret detention of ‘ghost prisoners’ in the so-called ‘war on terror.’