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Why Headley's interrogation is a charade

May 31, 2010 15:28 IST

A delay of eight months in giving India limited access to David Coleman Headley reduces the entire exercise to a charade. Should the Manmohan Singh government have literally colluded with the Obama administration in playing a fraud on the Indian people by creating an illusion of US cooperation? asks strategic expert B Raman.

A day before the start of the Indo-US Strategic Dialogue at Washington DC and three days before President Barack Obama's appearance at a reception to be hosted for the Indian delegation by US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, one more charade in Indo-US cooperation will be enacted with the departure of a four-member team of the National Investigation Agency for Chicago to interrogate David Coleman Headley of the Chicago cell of the Lashkar-e-Tayiba on his secret visits to India to collect operational information that would facilitate one more terrorist attack -- this time directed mainly at Israeli and other Jewish targets.

On May 1, Faisal Shahzad, a US citizen of Pakistani origin, tried unsuccessfully to cause an explosion at Times Square in New York. He was identified and arrested on May 3 as he was trying to flee to Pakistan. Within a week, the US made the Pakistani authorities detain for questioning over 15 persons in Karachi, Islamabad and other places in this connection and US officials including National Security Adviser General James Jones, Central Intelligence Agency Director Leon Panetta and officers of the Federal Bureau of Investigation flew to Pakistan to insist on follow-up action by the Pakistani agencies and to warn the Pakistani leaders of the consequences of their non-cooperation.

One admired the seriousness and the sense of urgency shown by US officials to protect American lives. If the protestations of Obama and his officials of friendship for India and their repeated assurances of the high priority to US relations with India were sincere and honest, one would have expected from them a similar seriousness and sense of urgency in protecting Indian lives by facilitating immediate access to Headley to Indian investigators.

The immediate follow-up which they insisted upon from Pakistan to protect American lives, they did not concede to India. Headley was arrested in October, 2009. It has taken them eight months to grant access to Indian investigators. Even the access is a limited one. During this delay of eight months, the LeT would have been able to cover up its trail in India, withdraw from India those of its cadres whose identities were known to Headley and reorganise and relocate its sleeper cells.

The Indian investigators, it has been reported, will be allowed to question Headley in the presence of his lawyer and an FBI official. Do you call this interrogation? What is interrogation? It is not just questioning a person and typing out his replies. It is much more than that. It is a psychological process by which you make the suspect contradict himself by confronting him with evidence which you have been able to collect independently. Ultimately, he realises the game is up and comes out with the truth.

With Headley's lawyer and the FBI officer sitting there all the time, will the Indian investigators be able to do it? No. Headley will just give pro forma replies to Indian questions and these replies would have been rehearsed with his lawyer and got approved by him. Of what use, his pro forma replies? Will we be able to prosecute him in India? If we decide to do so, will the US extradite him to India?

The departure of the Indian team to the US just before the Strategic Dialogue and the appearance of Obama at the State Department to talk to the Indian delegation is meant to prevent this issue from casting a shadow on the dialogue.

Do you remember what we were told after the so-called State visit of Prime Minister, Dr Manmohan Singh, to Washington DC in November last? We were told of a counter-terrorism initiative which the two countries have embarked upon. We were told of the personal interest taken by Obama in the Headley case. We were told of his instructions to FBI chief Robert Mueller to visit India and reassure his Indian counterparts of the FBI's readiness to co-operate with India in this matter. Subsequently, US Ambassador to India Timothy Roemer has been repeatedly telling Indian officials and people that the US was working 'day and night' to meet the Indian request for access to Headley.

The outcome: A delay of eight months in giving us limited access which reduces the entire exercise to a charade.

Should India have agreed to go along with this charade? Should the Manmohan Singh government have literally colluded with the Obama administration in playing a fraud on the Indian people by creating an illusion of Obama's cooperation when the US has not been co-operating with India as it expects others to co-operate with it?

It would have been more in keeping with our national self-respect and dignity for the Manmohan Singh government to have politely withdrawn its request to the US for access to Headley because of the lack of sincerity on the part of the Obama administration and its belated action, which has reduced the utility of any interrogation by Indian investigators.

B Raman