The UK-based human right group Reprieve is reporting that drone strike victim Kareem Khan has been released after enduring nearly 10 days of interrogation and torture related to his anti-drone activism.
Khan went missing February 5, when he was abducted from his home in the Pothohar region of Pakistan by men in police uniforms.
At the time of his disappearance, Khan was preparing to travel to Europe to testify before parliament about the CIA drone strike that killed his son and brother in 2009.
Furthermore, Khan’s lawyer, Shahzad Akbar, was helping him pursue legal action against the Pakistani police for their refusal to investigate the strike.
He told Al Jazeera that he was “blindfolded and handcuffed for eight days in a basement ‘torture chamber’, where he was beaten and physically abused.”
“There were different types of torture. There was mental torture – they would abuse me using very harsh and dirty curse words. Physically, they would punch me and slap me, on the face and shoulder. I was hit with a stick, on my arms and legs. They hit me on my open palms,” he told Al Jazeera.
“Aside from this, they would hang me upside down, and then one of them would hit the soles of my feet with a leather strap so that it did not leave a mark. But it was very painful.”
Khan said the beatings were sustained. He said there were 12 other “cells” in the location where he was being kept, but he was unable to provide other details, because he was blindfolded the entire time he was outside his own cell. The handcuffs and chains on his legs were constantly kept on him, he said.
“When a person is blindfolded […] they feel very bad, and when you are being treated this way, you feel like you are going crazy.”
After eight days of daily beatings, Khan said, he was once again blindfolded and put in a vehicle.
“They did not tell me that they were going to release me. I thought that they were going to kill me and dump my body somewhere remote,” he said.
Instead, Khan’s abductors threw him out of the vehicle in the Tarnol area of Rawalpindi, which neighbours the Pakistani capital Islamabad, late on Thursday night. Most of his belongings, he said, were returned to him, but his cellphone was not.
He then took a taxi to his Rawalpindi home, where he met his wife and four children.
It seems Khan’s activism on behalf of drone victims prompted his kidnapping. “[He] repeatedly questioned about his investigations into drone strikes, his knowledge of drone strike victims and his work advocating on their behalf,” according to Reprieve.
However, he is not deterred in his fight for justice and still plans to meet with European Parliamentarians in the coming week.
The Pakistani police have denied any involvement, but Akbar isn’t buying it. Apparently, such disappearances are not uncommon in Pakistan.
“What happened to Kareem Khan in last few days is nothing new in Pakistan,” said Akbar. “We are living in a state of lawlessness where the executive enjoys impunity.”
Akbar has filed a case in the Lahore High Court on behalf of Khan, adding to over 900 active cases accusing Pakistani state security and intelligence agencies of kidnappings and disappearances.
Akbar went on to credit international activists for his client’s release. You may have noticed the twitter hashtag #FreeKareem making its way around the interwebs in the last couple of days, many of them directed at the Pentagon and State Department officials.
It would be interesting to find out if US officials played a role in securing Khan’s release and if they had anything to do with his kidnapping. After all, it wouldn’t be the first time the US government has actively petitioned for the detainment and torture of those investigating drone strikes.
For example, Yemeni journalist Abdulelah Haider Shaye was imprisoned for three years by the Yemeni government at the request of President Obama for exposing the 2009 slaughter of 41 people, including 14 women and 21 children, in a US cruise missile strike on the Yemeni village of al-Majalah.
“When I was picked up I thought I would never see my family again, that I would never be free again because of all the stories I have heard about disappeared people,” said Khan, following his release. He expressed gratitude for “the efforts of activists”, saying, “I know it is because of them that I am free, and I would like to thank them.”
Imagine losing your family to a US drone strike. And then, to top it off, imagine being tortured on your quest for answers. What a fucked system.