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Pakistani legal action targets U.S. drone program

ISLAMABAD — A Pakistani lawyer filed charges Monday against the CIA's former legal counsel for authorizing drone missile strikes in Pakistan's tribal area that activists say killed mostly innocent civilians.

Advocacy groups hope that the charges against John A. Rizzo, a now-retired longtime CIA lawyer, will lead eventually to a lawsuit in the United States over the secretive drone program, which is highly unpopular in Pakistan but has become a central tool of the Obama administration's fight against al-Qaida and Taliban militants in Pakistan's remote tribal areas near Afghanistan.

The use of the drones began in 2004, but President Barack Obama has ramped it up significantly. While CIA and other U.S. government officials don't publicly comment on the drones as a matter of policy, Washington contends privately that there are few civilian victims.

Lawyers connected with the case said they focused on Rizzo, 63, because he discussed the process of drone targeting, determining who should be "blown to bits," as he put it in an interview with Newsweek magazine earlier this year.

Rizzo, who retired in 2009, described how he signed off on a monthly hit list, though he said at one point that "they tried to minimize collateral damage, especially women and children."

The charges filed in Islamabad by lawyer Shahzad Akbar — who's working with the British-based legal aid group Reprieve — are on behalf of two men who say they lost family members in drone attacks. They come as the U.S. and Pakistani militaries are struggling to patch up an uneasy alliance that has been on the rocks since the May U.S. raid that killed Osama bin Laden in Pakistan.

Taliban video shows killing of 16 Pakistanis

Taliban insurgents released a video showing them killing 16 Pakistani men who were captured in a raid in a restive northwestern province last month, a spokesman for the Pakistani military said Monday.

The video shows the men, most of whom appear to be Pakistani police officers, standing in a line with their hands tied behind their backs. Four insurgents stand in front, holding assault rifles, with their faces covered by scarves.

One insurgent, using Pashto, the language spoken in the country's northwest, accuses the men of killing six children in the Swat district.

No Taliban group has yet claimed responsibility for the video.

Pakistani legal action targets U.S. drone program 07/18/11 [Last modified: Monday, July 18, 2011 9:49pm]
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