- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 9, 2013

There was never a written agreement between Washington and Islamabad on the use of U.S. drones to kill suspected terrorists in Pakistan’s lawless tribal belt, but officials had an “understanding,” Pakistan’s former spy chief said.

“There was a political understanding” about drone strikes between the two countries, Gen. Ahmed Shuja Pasha, former director of Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence agency, told the Abbottabad Commission. The panel is named for the Pakistani garrison town where Osama bin Laden was found and killed by U.S. Navy SEALs.

A draft copy of the commission’s scathing report, which the Pakistani government has refused to publish, was leaked in Islamabad to Al-Jazeera, which posted it online Monday.

The report examines how bin Laden was able to live in Pakistan for more than a decade, and why the country’s military was unable to prevent or even detect the U.S. special forces helicopters that raided his compound in May 2011.

“The Americans had been asked to stop such [drone] attacks on a number of occasions, but it was easier to say ‘no’ to them in the beginning” than later, Gen. Pasha said.

U.S. officials last year openly acknowledged the classified drone program for the first time, saying the airstrikes were authorized by the president and were legal under international law

“The drone attacks had their utility, but they represented a breach of national sovereignty,” Gen. Pasha told the commission.

He summarized the status of the program — under which the CIA kills suspected terrorists, including Americans, in locations such as Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia — as “legal according to American law but illegal according to international law.”

Meanwhile, the U.N. official investigating the drone program has said that the justification cited in international law by U.S. officials for the lethal strikes is not accepted outside the United States, not even by America’s allies.

The claim that the U.S. is in a global armed conflict with al Qaeda and is entitled under the laws of war to kill its members wherever it finds them is not widely accepted, Ben Emmerson, a British jurist who is the U.N. special rapporteur on counterterrorism and human rights, said in Washington in May.

Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has criticized the U.S. drone strikes as a violation of his country’s sovereignty and has called for Washington to end the program.

Mr. Sharif has condemned the airstrikes as recently as last month following a drone attack that occurred just two days after he had become prime minister.

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