A Pakistani judge on Tuesday ordered criminal charges to be filed against a former CIA lawyer who oversaw the agency’s drone program and a former station chief in Islamabad over a 2009 strike that killed two people.
Former acting general counsel John A. Rizzo and former station chief Jonathan Bank must face charges of murder, conspiracy, waging war against Pakistan and terrorism, ruled Justice Shaukat Aziz Siddiqui of the Islamabad High Court. A court clerk and a lawyer involved in the case, Mirza Shahzad Akbar, confirmed details of the ruling.
Rizzo and Bank could not be immediately reached for comment. The CIA declined to comment when contacted by Al Jazeera America.
Bank’s cover was blown in late 2010 when a Pakistani man, Kareem Khan, threatened to sue the CIA and others for $500 million over the deaths of his sons Zaenullah Khan and Asif Iqbal in a Dec. 31, 2009, strike in the North Waziristan tribal region.
The Associated Press and other media reported at the time that three people were killed in a missile attack that day in Mir Ali in North Waziristan. Pakistani intelligence officials said then that the men were insurgents but offered no proof.
As the outrage over the deaths grew, protesters in Islamabad began carrying placards bearing Bank's name, as listed in the lawsuit, and urging him to leave the country. The CIA pulled Bank from the country on Dec. 16, 2010, when he began receiving death threats.
His outing spurred questions at the time of whether Pakistan's spy service might have leaked the information, something Islamabad denied.
The disclosure didn't prevent Bank from landing another sensitive job. He became chief of the Iran operations division at CIA headquarters in Virginia. He was removed from that post after CIA officials concluded that he created a hostile work environment in the division. He has since been detailed to the Pentagon's intelligence arm.
Rizzo was the CIA's acting general counsel overseeing its drone program. He later left the agency and wrote a book about his experiences at the CIA.
The CIA's drone strike program killed Pakistani Taliban fighters and other insurgents hiding in its tribal regions but has sparked anger across Pakistan over civilian casualties from the strikes.
It is estimated that since 2004, the U.S. has carried out over 400 drone strikes in the country, killing anywhere from 421 to 960 civilians, according to the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, which tracks the U.S. campaign.
The foundation says the last U.S. drone strike in Pakistan was on Jan. 29 and killed at least six suspected fighters.
It is not clear how the judge's ruling will affect relations between Pakistan and the U.S., especially over the drone program. While Pakistan's government often decries the strikes, many believe it allows them to target the insurgents who threaten it. Massive protests against the drone program previously blocked a land route used by NATO forces to resupply troops in neighboring Afghanistan.
Any legal action stands no chance of success unless U.S. officials cooperate with the court, something highly unlikely, given the secretive nature of the drone program, which the CIA rarely publicly discusses.
Under the judge's order, Pakistan's federal police force must file the charges against Rizzo and Bank, though the police have so far refused, reportedly out of a reluctance to upset the country's diplomatic relations with the U.S.
Pakistani police officials could not be immediately reached for comment Tuesday.
Pakistani lawyer Khawaja Naveed Ahmed, who is not involved in the case, said the government could appeal the judge's order to a higher court to avoid having to file the charges.
Al Jazeera and The Associated Press