Pakistani drone critic granted visa for U.S. conference

A Pakistani lawyer who is suing the CIA to stop its campaign of lethal drone attacks against top terrorists there has been granted a visa to enter the United States to publicize his case.

The decision to admit Mirza Shahzad Akbar may prove controversial.

One of his clients in the lawsuit, who says his relatives were civilian casualties of a drone strike, deliberately outed the CIA station chief in Islamabad in December 2010. The chief had to be withdrawn hurriedly.

“I am glad that better sense prevailed and the State Department is finally letting me into the country,” Mr. Akbar said in a statement Tuesday.

He will be a keynote speaker at a conference this weekend in Washington organized by legal critics of the CIA drone strike program and feminist antiwar group Code Pink.

Mr. Akbar said the visa decision came after “14 months of delay” by U.S. consular officials. He first applied last year to visit the United States to speak at a similar conference last May in Boston.

State Department officials told Mr. Akbar “there was an administrative process and it couldn’t be speeded up,” said conference organizer Ramah Kudaimi, a Code Pink activist.

Mr. Akbar credited a “tireless” public campaign by conference organizers for pushing the State Department to grant him the visa.

The CIA declined to comment, and a State Department official that privacy laws prohibit comment on individual cases.

“Visas are granted unless an applicant is found inadmissible in accordance with the provisions of the Immigration and Nationality Act,” the official said in an e-mail. “U.S. law does not grant authority to deny visas solely on the basis of political statements or views.”

Mr. Akbar and other critics of the drone program claim that hundreds of innocent civilians have been killed in the attacks, and say they violate international law. He has argued that the attacks are fueling extremism in Pakistan, where reports of civilian casualties have incited public anger.

“I believe the American people are good people and will want to do something to stop this unjust, counterproductive war that violates all norms of international law and human rights,” Mr. Akbar said.

U.S. officials have defended the drone program as lawful under authorities granted the CIA by the president, and say the estimates of civilian casualties produced by Mr. Akbar and his supporters are exaggerated.

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