Blatant Contradiction - Pakistan quietly frees 100 terrorism suspects
This article opens up a contradiction that is hard to fathom:
By Carlotta Gall
Tuesday, December 18, 2007
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ISLAMABAD: Pakistan’s military and intelligence agencies, apparently trying to avoid acknowledging an elaborate secret detention system, have quietly set free nearly 100 men suspected of links to terrorism, human rights groups and lawyers say.
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The issue of the missing had become one of the most contentious between Musharraf and the Supreme Court under its former chief justice, Iftikhar Chaudhry.
The release of the suspects is particularly galling to lawyers, because Musharraf had accused the courts of freeing terrorist suspects as a justification for imposing emergency rule on Nov. 3. That decree was lifted Saturday, but the former chief justice and other judges were dismissed and remain in detention. The Supreme Court hearings on the missing have been halted.
While Musharraf criticized the court as being soft on terrorists, court records show that Chaudhry was less interested in releasing terrorist suspects than in making sure their cases entered the court system. He stressed at each hearing that his primary concern was for the families of the missing, who were suffering great anguish not knowing where their loved ones were.
“Not a single person who was convicted was released on the Supreme Court’s order,” Siddiqui (a Supreme Court lawyer) said.
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A week into emergency rule, he (Musharraf) passed a decree amending the 1952 Army Act to allow civilians to be tried for general offenses by military tribunals. The tribunals are closed to the public and offer no right of appeal.The amendment was made retroactive to January 2003.
Cheema, the Interior Ministry spokesman, acknowledged that prosecutors and investigators had had difficulty pinning crimes on detainees. Hundreds of people in Guantánamo had not been charged either, he pointed out. The Army Act would resolve much of the problem, he said.
“Sometimes it becomes difficult to prove a case, but you have reasons that a person poses a threat to humanity and to society,” he said.
The intervention of the Supreme Court under Chaudhry was undoubtedly exposing the system of secret detentions. He had first taken up the cases of the missing in 2006, demanding that the government trace the detainees and account for them.
His steady requests for information from senior police, Interior Ministry and military officials helped to trace nearly 100 detainees. Most of them were subsequently released without charge.
“This was very embarrassing to the government because the people who were supposed to be found and released, they told all their stories,” Rehman said.
Only four or five detainees ever appeared before the Supreme Court, and they were ordered released, but their accounts were starting to open a trove of information, said Amina Masood Janjua, who has led a campaign to trace the missing, who include her husband.
She, for instance, first learned news of her husband, who disappeared in July 2005, from a written account by another detainee. Later the detainee, Imran Munir, was produced in court and told her he had been held in the military base at Chaklala, in Rawalpindi, south of the capital, and saw her husband in another cell.
Another detainee, Hafiz Muhammad Tahir, was brought before the court and told the judges he had been ordered by the police to give a false account of his detention and charges against him, Janjua said. In fact he had been held secretly for three years without charge. The chief justice ordered him to be freed and he was released the same day.
It is rare that detainees are produced in court. The majority of the 100 detainees released this year have been freed surreptitiously by the police and intelligence agencies, lawyers and human rights officials said. “They do not want a legal challenge, so they release them secretly,” Janjua said.
One such detainee, Saud Memon, was dumped on a garbage heap, she said. Memon owned a plot of land where Pearl, the American journalist, was beheaded in 2002. Pearl’s newspaper, The Wall Street Journal, reported recently that Memon drove three men who were the killers to the site, citing witness accounts by Pakistani investigators.
Memon was picked up in South Africa in March 2003, according to his family, taken to Guantánamo Bay at some point, they believe, and later brought to Pakistan and held by the intelligence agencies. His brother, Mahmood, said the family had learned that Memon was in Pakistan only this year from another detainee who had also been released. He was dumped near his home in April, so ill that he never recognized his wife and children, and died within three weeks. He was never charged, and the government never acknowledged holding him.
Mansfield, the CIA spokesman, declined to comment on Memon’s case, saying, “The CIA does not, as a rule, comment on allegations regarding who has, or has not, been in its custody.”