India’s charges against Headley may make no material difference (Comment)December 22nd, 2011 - 6:04 pm ICT by IANS
The decision by India’s National Investigation Agency (NIA) to formally file charges against David Coleman Headley is unlikely to be of any material consequence for the convicted key Mumbai terror plotter is lodged in an undisclosed US prison.
Headley’s extradition to face charges and stand trial in India was an option that US federal prosecutors had taken off the table as part of a deal in exchange for which he has already pleaded guilty on all 12 counts. He is currently awaiting formal sentencing which is expected to be handed down by a court in the US sometime in spring. Another plea deal condition that won the prosecutors a full guilty plea is that he will be spared the death sentence.
There are next to no prospects of Headley’s plea deal being revoked to facilitate his extradition, particularly because he was seen to have met the condition of full cooperation during the trial and helped the prosecutors win the eventual conviction of his childhood friend and fellow accused Tahawwur Hussain Rana.
Although Rana survived conviction in connection with his alleged role in facilitating Headley’s travels to Mumbai to scout targets, he was found guilty of helping a plot to attack a Danish newspaper’s offices.
While official sources would not publicly comment on whether India can do anything to compel the US government to revoke the non-extradition condition, it is clear that the chances of that happening are practically non-existent.
Although the fact is that Rana was not found guilty of any involvement in the Mumbai terror strike case, something the prosecutors were rather unhappy about, it was hard to lay the blame for that failure solely on Headley. From all indications, Headley did cooperate with the authorities to the extent he was required to but in the end the prosecutors could not convince the jury.
There are no compelling grounds at this stage for the US authorities to renege on the plea deal that spared Headley his worst nightmare scenario of facing Indian investigators in India. While an NIA team did interrogate him in Chicago in June 2010, it was conducted in US controlled conditions and under many ground rules. Headley ought to be aware what it might mean to be lodged in Indian judicial custody and be subjected to interrogation by Indian investigators.
Another factor that may discourage US authorities from considering Headley’s extradition may have to do with strong suspicions in India of his possible role as an informer of the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) who went rogue. There is no predicting what Headley might tell Indian investigators about his life as a DEA informer in order to talk his way out of tight corners.
On balance, the perception in the US seems to be that the Headley case has run its course with him awaiting sentencing along with Rana. There is no particular interest in sending him to India to face the justice system there.
The death of six US citizens in the Mumbai attacks gave the US prosecutors enough legal leverage to subject him to the law of the land in the US rather than handing him over to India under the extradition treaty between the two countries. In any case, extradition of US citizens is a rare occurrence and is almost always discouraged.
With this as the backdrop, it is anybody’s guess what Indian investigators might gain by formally charging Headley along with others, including the shadowy Major Iqbal, a suspected operative of Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) to whom Headley has admitted to have been reporting.
Perhaps the only person the NIA might be able to lay their hands on is Rana, who after pleading not guilty, was convicted earlier this year. There is no plea deal in place for Rana that precludes his extradition. However, the fact that he is a Canadian citizen, who is also a permanent citizen of the US, now waiting to be handed down his sentence which could be anywhere between 15 and 30 years, could complicate matters.
All others that the NIA seeks to charge are based in Pakistan and they were also named in the US indictment. If the US has been unable to bring them to justice here, it is unlikely that India would be able to compel Pakistan to send them there.
Unless the NIA is working out of some undisclosed arrangement with US authorities about Headley, the formal charges could turn out to be more symbolic than consequential.
(Mayank Chhaya is a US-based writer and commentator. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)
- Row in India as Headley escapes death, extradition (Roundup) - Mar 19, 2010
- Rana acquitted for Mumbai, India disappointed (Intro Roundup) - Jun 10, 2011
- 26/11: Order reserved for taking cognizance of charge sheet - Feb 04, 2012
- NIA to finalise charges against Rana after US trial - May 16, 2011
- India prepares for Headley interrogation, US assures access (Roundup) - Mar 20, 2010
- Court accepts 26/11 charges against Headley, 8 Pakistanis (Lead) - Feb 18, 2012
- 26/11: Sleuths want to probe role of Headley's wife - Jan 22, 2012
- Mumbai terror accused Rana arraigned in Chicago court - May 05, 2011
- India to seek extradition of 26/11 accused from US, Pakistan - Jan 30, 2012
- Rana 'not guilty' for Mumbai, India disappointed (Roundup) - Jun 10, 2011
- Headley may still be available to Indian investigators ((News Analysis) - Mar 19, 2010
- Mumbai attack: US charges four top Pakistani terrorists (Lead) - Apr 26, 2011
- NIA team to be set up to question Headley - Mar 22, 2010
- Mumbai terror suspect Rana's trial on May 16 - Apr 12, 2011
- US charges 4 Pakistani terrorists in 26/11 Mumbai attack - Apr 26, 2011
Tags: authorities, childhood friend, consequence, conviction, david coleman, death sentence, extent, extradition, federal prosecutors, fellow, full cooperation, guilty plea, investigation agency, material difference, national investigation, plea deal, plotter, prospects, rana, targets