Betrayal of victims
The rather soft sentence handed out to David Headley by a US court was not unexpected.
He had cut a deal with US officials under which in return for co-operating with officials he would not face the death penalty or be extradited to India or Denmark.
That a man who carried out a surveillance of potential targets and facilitated the 2008 terror attacks in Mumbai was given 35 years imprisonment rather than a life term makes a mockery of the US criminal justice system. But the punishment is not the fault of the court that tried him. The presiding judge had strong words to say about Headley, describing him as a ‘terrorist’ and noting that he ‘deserved’ the death sentence.
The judge’s hands were tied by the plea bargain deal. By protecting the accused from the death sentence and preventing other countries from trying him, the US has abetted terrorism. Other terrorists will be encouraged as they too can strike deals to escape the noose.
While India can draw some satisfaction from the fact that in effect the 35-year jail term will see the 53-year-old Headley counting bars in prison for the rest of his life, this is cold comfort. The inability of Indian officials to convince the US on the issue of extraditing Headley and his accomplice Tawahhur Rana has laid bare Delhi’s utter helplessness in dealing with Washington.
Put simply, it has no leverage over the US, especially on issues that involve Pakistan. Despite all the proclaimed bonhomie and celebration of ‘shared values’ with India, Washington is reluctant to help India in its fight against terrorism.
Unlike the US, which bombed Afghanistan in the wake of the 9/11 terror attacks, India rightly ruled out the military option against Pakistan. It sought justice for the victims through the courts. That quest for justice has been repeatedly blocked by Pakistan and the US, interestingly in similar ways. While Pakistan has refused to hand over Lashkar terrorist mastermind Hafiz Saeed among others, the US refused to extradite Headley and Rana who are in its custody.
Neither have they subjected the accused to credible trials within the country. The US has grandly promised now to continue its efforts to bring to justice the six others accused in the case. Its words ring hollow. After all, it has reached an agreement with the Pakistan military that it will not summon ISI operatives accused in the case for trial in US courts.