Terror on trial (not an easy task)

Posted on April 18, 2009. Filed under: Public Square |

Ajmal Amir Kasab, the only terrorist that Indian authorities managed to capture alive during the Mumbai Attacks, is now on trial and has been charged with murder, conspiracy and waging war against India.

It’s been a long journey to this point, starting initially with capturing the terrorist alive in the first place.

Then there was the rather complex issue of having the Pakistani government actually accept the fact that he is a citizen of their country. After the Indian government had already made the claim, based on his confession, and investigative reporters from Pakistan’s media visited his hometown, Faridakot, to confirm that he lived there, Zardari’s government responded by cordoning off the village, shutting down a nearby office of the terrorist organization Lashkar-e-Toiba, and tried to stop his parents from speaking about him. In January, National Security Advisor Mahmud Ali Durrani admitted that Kasab is a Pakistani citizen, and, naturally, was fired by the President for opening up, a move that even had the Prime Minister critizing his own president.

Once his nationality had been confirmed, attention moved to the domestic problems of how India was going to deal with Kasab, and specifically of who would represent him, after his request for representation from the Pakistani consulate had been denied.

Hundreds of Indian lawyers refused to represent Kasab, citing ethical concerns, and also the worry that violent nationalist groups, like the Shiv Sena, would cause problems for whoever attempted to defend the terrorist. And that’s exactly what they did, after the Indian judiciary (thankfully) upheld the constitutional right for Kasab to have legal aid. The house of Anjali Waghmare, Kasab’s appointed lawyer, was attacked, and Waghmare asked to be removed from the case, before changing her mind and returning, only to be dismissed for a conflict of interest, considering that she represented one of the witnesses as well.  Meanwhile, the police built a special bomb-proof tunnel between Kasab’s cell and the court t ensure his security at all times. Finally, Abbas Kazmi, another lawyer, was appointed to the role and has begun defending the man as the trial began on April 15.

Despite the calls to summarily execute Kasab or try him without representation (because he was waging war, and the judicial system doesn’t require representation for ‘the enemy’) I think it was a sign of the maturity of India’s judiciary that they were ready to offer him legal aid, and managed to appoint someone to do the role as well.

While the real way to deal with the attacks is to dismantle the terrorist networks in Pakistan, this is also an important symbolic way of showing that India will be able to punish those involved in such attacks, but in a fair, civilized, humane manner. And if we’re lucky, the trial will also coax more details about the attacks so we have more information on which to act.


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3 Responses to “Terror on trial (not an easy task)”

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‘While the real way to deal with the attacks is to dismantle the terrorist networks in Pakistan, this is also an important symbolic way of showing that India will be able to punish those involved in such attacks, but in a fair, civilized, humane manner.’
I will agree that making a sound judgment regarding perceived wrongdoings of even those alleged criminals through means of a fair trial is a progressive step towards a fair and comprehensive judicial system, insofar as what is regarded as “progressive” does not amount to a more laxed system of criminal (or terrorist) deterrence. Such was the case in U.S. metropolitan cities starting from the late 70’s up until the 90’s, which ultimately resulted in a dramatic increase in crime rate – as criminals were ultimately rewarded for their actions through weak methods of deterrence (weak sentences). Nevertheless, what I believe I am trying to establish with this commentary is that India’s willingness to offer the terrorist a fair trial is indeed a step forward, but in order to not counter-act that step forward, the Indian judicial system must make sure that Kasab’s sentence is one that ultimately deters terrorism by either setting an example for prospective terrorists of the sort or not allowing the perpetuation of his wrongdoings (i.e. death sentence or life in prison).

I agree with you that it is very important that everyone, even suspected terrorists, receive legal representation. A government and the judiciary are both legitimized by giving every person the chance to have a good defense. The only exception I would have to that is with military matters and POW’s, those cases have separate, internationally agreed upon, rules that dictate how they are handled. On a different note, I will point out that I don’t know how helpful it is, other then for intelligence gathering, that a terrorist be brought in alive. I think having a trial is good closure for many people, but as long as we are sure that the terrorist can’t commit more crimes, his trial is nothing more then semantics.

I think India’s use of the trial, assessing punishments via lawful and democratic means, should be looked upon by other countries for future conflicts with captured terrorists and murderers. However, ultimately his punishment should be severe to further the pattern of democratic execution: if rights are infringed, consequences ensue.

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