A Pakistani lawyer who has presided over lawsuits against the United States government for its drone attacks in his country blasted the CIA for expanding its strategy in Yemen to include drone strikes on suspected terrorists.
According to the Associated Press, the authorization will allow the CIA to kill suspected terrorists, even if they aren't able to identify who the suspect is, but only with Yemeni permission. If a suspect is determined to be of low importance, permission to kill will be denied. But Shahzad Akbar, an attorney with the Pakistani Foundation for Fundamental Rights said in Washington, D.C. Thursday that the move only gives the CIA less incentive to discover suspects' identities.
"They can't kill them if they know someone is a low value target, however they can kill if they don't know that person," he said. "We were confused reading about it this morning."
Pardiss Kebriaei, a lawyer with the Center for Constitutional Rights who filed charges (and lost in court) against the Obama administration for overstepping his bounds in ordering the killing of suspected terrorist and American citizen Anwar al-Awlaki, says that the "level of authority [granted in Yemen] is new."
"The United States is trying to escalate in Yemen the drone program it's been carrying out in Pakistan," she says. "It grants power to kill not only people who are designated and named, but now they can kill based on patterns of behavior that are suspicious."
Akbar claims the CIA is looking for three things.
"They have a checklist, and here's what they're looking for—Are they carrying weapons? Do they have a beard and a turban? Are they traveling with a large group of people?," he says. "Well, everyone in that area carries a weapon, a beard is part of the religion, turban is part of the culture. As for traveling in a group, well, it's a society that has bigger families. If you're looking for a pattern like this, you're killing citizens and civilians."
The Obama administration has caught flack for its drone attacks in Pakistan. In February, the Bureau of Investigative Journalism reported that drone strikes targeted people attending funerals. Obama has said that the CIA has used "precision strikes against Al Qaeda and their affiliates."
"This thing is kept on a very tight leash," Obama told an online questioner. Reports on the number of civilians killed in Pakistan vary, but some estimate that nearly 800 civilians have died in Pakistan as a result of the strikes.
Any estimates are pointless, Akbar says. He is lobbying the Pakistani government to release records of American drone strikes in the country.
"The CIA is, so far, the only source of information. Look at the quality of the information they give you—it's nothing. Who are they killing? Who are these people? What are their names?," Akbar said. "They say they're taking out the bad guys, but the facts on the ground are very different, there are a huge number of women, children, elderly and incapacitated people."
Akbar is in America for a Drone Summit being hosted by Code Pink, an anti-war group comprised mostly of women, Akbar said it took him more than 14 months to get permission to enter the U.S.
He said that the CIA's drone campaign has "killed 200 years of civil rights advances" and is "only creating more enemies" for the United States. Last year, Akbar filed murder charges in Pakistan against former CIA general counsel John Rizzo.
Akbar said that if drone strikes are to continue, the CIA needs to be more transparent about who it is is targeting and who it has killed.
"Once people learn what's really happening, they'll complain. People need to make an informed decision," he says. "If you're only telling [Americans] that it's making them safe, you're not making an informed decision."
Jason Koebler is a science and technology reporter for U.S. News & World Report. You can follow him on Twitter or reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.