By M K Bhadrakumar
News that the United States Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) had reached a plea bargain with David Coleman Headley, who played a key role in the planning of the terrorist strike in Mumbai in November 2008 in which 166 people were killed, has caused an uproar in India.
The deal enables the US government to hold back from formally producing any evidence against Headley in a court of law that might have included details of his links with US intelligence or oblige any cross-examination of Headley by the prosecution.
Nor can the families of the 166 victims be represented by a lawyer to question Headley during his trial commencing in Chicago. Headley's links with the US intelligence will now remain classified
information and the Pakistan nationals involved in the Mumbai attacks will get away scot-free. Furthermore, the FBI will not allow Headley's extradition to India and will restrict access so that Indian agencies cannot interrogate him regarding his links with US and Pakistani intelligence.
In return for pleading guilty to the charges against him Headley will get lighter punishment than the death sentence that was probably most likely.
Headley's arrest in Chicago last October initially seemed a breakthrough in throwing light on the operations and activities of Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT), the Pakistan-based terrorist organization, in India. But instead the Obama administration's frantic efforts to cover up the details of the case have been taken to their logical conclusion.
The plea bargain raises explosive questions. The LeT began planning the attack on Mumbai sometime around September 2006. According to the plea bargain, Headley paid five visits to India on reconnaissance missions between 2006 and the November 2008 strike, each time returning to the US via Pakistan where he met "with various co-conspirators, including but not limited to members of LeT".
Now that the light-eyed Pakistani American who waged war against India and plotted the ruin of Mumbai in meticulous detail has finally pleaded guilty — we are being told that all is not lost. After the cushy deal that David Headley has cut with the Americans, it’s brutally clear that India will never get hold of the man who criss-crossed our country like some Super-Bomber, surveying targets and picking new victims. But, apparently we are still meant to be pleased that Indian investigators may eventually be able to talk to the man in some shape or form. So what if a government who demanded extradition now has to quietly contend with a reduced sentence for Headley and one that India will have no say in.
Never mind the humiliation of our sleuths being turned back from the United States when they first arrived to question him. And forget the fact that India allowed the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) to interrogate Ajmal Kasab for nine hours away from the formal constraints of court trials and the relentless gaze of the public eye. Since 26/11 claimed the lives of six Americans, the FBI felt it had an automatic entitlement to that meeting. But the murder of more than a hundred Indians in the same attack; one that left India naked and vulnerable forever, does not apparently give us the same rights in reverse. But no — we are being asked to forget all of that and be grateful for the fact that Headley may now testify in the trial via videoconference. As they sometimes say in Ronald McDonald’s land: “Gee Whiz.” What a joke.
There can be only two explanations for this astounding double standard: hypocrisy or secrecy. For several months now questions have been raised about Headley’s curious and untold past. His differently coloured eyes (one brown, one blue) may as well have been a metaphor for a life steeped in schizophrenia. We know now of his two wives and about his American socialite mom who ran a swinging bar and his Pakistani diplomat dad who encouraged a regimented orthodoxy. But Headley’s version of East- meets-West turned out to be his stint in Pakistan working as an undercover informant for the US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA).
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