State Department Is Keeping Pakistani Drone Victim's Lawyer Out of the Country So Survivors Won't Testify in Front of Members Of Congress (with Video and Petition)

Shahzad Akbar, the lawyer challenging US-led drone warfare in Pakistan, has been blocked by the U.S. Department of State from appearing before a Congressional ad hoc hearing with his clients who have survived drone strikes in their town. Rafiq ur Rehman – a teacher in a primary school in North Waziristan – lost his mother in the same October 2012 drone attack that hospitalized his children Nabila and Zubair. 


It is necessary for Mr. Akbar  to accompany  his client Mr. Rehman and his two children,  in order for them to come to D.C. Such testimony would be the first time that drone victims from Pakistan have come to Capitol Hill to present the on-the-ground reality of America’s drone policy.

Congressman Alan Grayson (FL-09) has requested that the State Department give Shahzad Akbar a visa to bring his clients to testify. He explained: “Congress would like to conduct an ad hoc hearing on drones, and it is very important for us to hear from victims of drone strikes. Rafiq ur Rehman, a school teacher in Pakistan, lost his 67-year old mother in a drone strike, and two of his children also suffered drone-strike-related injuries. The State Department has granted the visas of Rafiq and his children to  travel to the U.S. and share their stories with Congress. However, it has not yet issued a visa for the family’s lawyer and translator, Shahzad Akbar. Without Mr. Akbar, Rafiq and his children will not be able to travel to the U.S.. I encourage the State Department to approve Mr. Akbar’s visa immediately.” 

Robert Greenwald, who is the director of the forthcoming documentary Unmanned  met and interviewed  Mr. Akbar and Mr. Rehman in Pakistan and shared their stories with Congressman Grayson.

Greenwald recounts:  “While filming Unmanned in Pakistan, I saw first-hand the critical role Mr. Akbar is playing in reaching, protecting, and encouraging those, like Rafiq and his family, affected by tragic drone attacks to use the legal system – not violence. This man should be welcomed and celebrated, not silenced."

“I also met and interviewed Rafiq and his family and know that if Mr. Akbar were allowed into America by the State Department, Congress and the American people would be as moved as I was about the plight of these survivors in a covert war.”

Greenwald's film,  Unmanned: America’s Drone War investigates the impact that U.S. drone strikes have across the globe—the violation of international law, the loss of life, the far-reaching implications for the communities that live under drones, and blowback the United States faces.

For the film,  Greenwald traveled to Pakistan in the fall of 2012 and interviewed more than 35 victims, witnesses, psychiatrists, and Pakistani leaders. The film will include  exclusive footage  from the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) of Pakistan, Jirgas, and  interviews with many drone policy experts.  

As for Mr. Akbar – who is a  legal fellow at Reprieve, an international  justice organization  --  he explained  that before his work with drone victims, he freely traveled to the US: 

“Before I began representing civilian victims in 2010, I used to travel regularly to the U.S. My visa would be processed in 3 working days. Then, in 2011, I applied for a visa to talk at a conference about my work with drone strike victims. Suddenly, I was told my visa required additional processing which took 14 months. This time, the denial is to stop me from talking to American lawmakers who have invited me to speak about what I have witnessed. I hope to tell them about the impact of drone strikes  and also to shed light on the fact that policies like drone strikes are actually a challenge to America’s national security.

Akbar represents  156 civilian drone strike victims and families, families he says   who have lost children, parents, and siblings, are now trying through legal means to achieve justice.   

Watch a one-minute clip of Rafiq ur Rehman interviewed in the forthcoming documentary Unmanned.  Sign the petition urging the State Department to give a visa to Mr Akbar. 

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