The Courage of Pakistani Journalists

Pakistan and the world rely on brave men and women like reporter Saleem Shahzad, who was recently killed under mysterious circumstances

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Pakistani journalists Qamar Yousafzai and Syed Saleem Shahzad in a 2006 photo from the Pakistan-Afghan border / Reuters

In 2005, U.S. and Pakistani intelligence and military personnel were tracking Abu Hamza Rabia, a senior Al Qaeda official involved in the 2003 assassination plots against Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf. Eventually, Rabia was tracked to the Mosaki village in the North Waziristan province near the Afghan border. On November 5, a CIA-controlled Predator drone fired one or more Hellfire missiles at a house in Mosaki, reportedly killing Rabia's wife and daughter and six others. Rabia was wounded, but narrowly missed being killed.

Three weeks later, Rabia was tracked to the village of Haisori. On December 1, at 1:45 a.m., a Predator fired Hellfire missiles at a mud-brick compound in Haisori, killing Rabia, a Syrian bodyguard, and the seventeen-year old son and eight-year old nephew of the owner of the house. At the blast site, villagers uncovered pieces of shrapnel bearing the Hellfire's designation "AGM-114," the words "guided missile," and the initials "U.S."  To conceal American involvement, the Pakistani government created a flimsy cover story that Rabia blew himself up experimenting with explosives.

We only know that the villagers of Haisori found physical evidence of the American drone strike because freelance journalist Hayatullah Khan filed a story and photographs with the Urdu-language daily Ausaf, with the pictures further distributed around the world by the European Pressphoto Agency (EPA). (You can see Khan's photographs of the blast site on the EPA website by entering "Hayatullah" in the image search.)

The day after Khan's story was published, his car was run off the road and he was abducted by five armed men. Six months later, his body was found in a Miran Shah marketplace, handcuffed and shot in the head from behind. Although a Peshawar High Court Justice investigated Khan's disappearance and submitted his findings in August 2006, the results have never been made public. Khan's family, meanwhile, has always accused Pakistani intelligence officials of authorizing the detention and murder of Hayatullah Khan.

The State Department's 2006 Country Report on Human Rights Practices for Pakistan described the Khan murder delicately, indirectly implicating Pakistani officials, while denying the existence of the CIA's Predator drones:

"Colleagues suspected that authorities detained Khan after he contradicted a government report that the senior leader died when munitions exploded inside a house. Khan quoted local tribesmen as saying the house was hit by a missile fired from an aircraft."

Abu Hamza Rabia was the most prominent high-value al-Qaeda official killed in the early years of the CIA's killing-by-drone program over the tribal areas of Pakistan. Hayatullah Khan, meanwhile, was an unintended early casualty of the drone campaign, murdered for having the courage to report on the facts as he saw them, which directly contradicted the Musharraf government's sanitized version of the events.

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Micah Zenko is a Fellow in the Center for Preventive Action at the Council on Foreign Relations, and author of Between Threats and War: U.S. Discrete Military Operations in the Post-Cold War World. He writes regularly at Politics, Power, and Preventative Action.

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