Tahawwur Rana not to plead guilty unlike Headley

Pakistani-Canadian terror suspect Tahawwur Hussain Rana, charged with involvement in the Mumbai attacks, will stick to his `not guilty plea` unlike his co-accused and childhood friend David Coleman Headley, who confessed to plotting the 26/11 strikes.

Last Updated: Mar 30, 2010, 17:29 PM IST

Chicago: Pakistani-Canadian terror
suspect Tahawwur Hussain Rana, charged with involvement in the
Mumbai attacks, will stick to his `not guilty plea` unlike his
co-accused and childhood friend David Coleman Headley, who
confessed to plotting the 26/11 strikes.

Rana (49), clad in an orange prison jumpsuit, appeared
before US Judge Harry Leinenweber in a District court today
where federal prosecutors set out dates till September to
produce and handle classified information and evidence in the
case.

Speaking to reporters after the 20-minute hearing,
Rana`s attorney Patrick Blegen said his client is not changing
his plea like co-accused David Coleman Headley did.

"We are heading for a trial... we are hoping for a
trial sooner rather than later," Blegen said.

Rana had on January 25 entered a plea of not guilty to
the three counts of charges against him in the superseding
indictment returned on January 14 in the US District Court for
the Northern District of Illinois.

LeT operative and Rana`s childhood friend Headley
pleaded guilty on March 18 to all 12 counts against him,
including scouting for targets for the 26/11 Mumbai attacks.

Rana`s trial process is expected to start only after
September, till when federal prosecutors would work on what
evidence, gathered against him, can be used at trial.

Blegen said the trial would "obviously not start till
after September" but hoped that it would not take 1-2 years
for the trial to begin.

He said Headley`s guilty plea did not come as a
surprise since he had been "cooperating with the
investigation".

"We knew and I think everybody in the press already
knew as well that he was planning on pleading guilty.

"He allowed the Department of Justice to indicate that
he was cooperating so it is not surprising at all.

"As to how it will affect the (Rana) case, I have to
see the evidence first," he said adding that he feels he still
has a strong case.

On whether Indian authorities, who have been pressing
to interrogate Headley, would be given access to Rana, Blegen
said, "I will wait to hear who exactly wanted to talk to whom
and what the conditions are. If they ask, I`ll think about
it".

Chicago`s top federal prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald,
who was present at the hearing, told the court he hopes to
declassify evidence gathered in the terror investigation in
the next few months.

Fitzgerald said declassifying the material would help
the government avoid extensive use of the Classified
Information Procedures Act (CIPA) - which is essentially a
procedural tool for a court to address the relevance of
classified evidence before it may be introduced for trial.

"A substantial amount of discovery is classified
material we`re seeking to declassify," said Fitzgerald, whose
presence during the hearings demonstrates the high importance
the government is attaching to the case.

Blegen and prosecutors agreed on a six-month schedule
- April 5, June 1, July 1, August 2, September 13 - for
carrying out provisions of the CIPA, which allows prosecutors
to take extraordinary measures to prevent classified
information from leaking to the public.

This is done mainly to protect the source of the
information and safeguard information that may be important
for national security.

Leinenweber set a date of September 13 for a hearing
to determine what classified information can be admitted as
evidence at trial. A status hearing for motions not related to
classified materials was set for May 11.

Blegen added that this case "does not work like a
usual case because there is a lot of different things you have
to go through when there is classified information".

He said he would be able to view the classified
documents in a special room that has been chosen in the
courthouse for the purpose once he is given his security
clearance.

"If there is something in the documents that we think
is necessary for part of the defence we can attempt to get it
declassified. If the government does not agree to this, then
the court would decide whether the information should be
declassified," he said.

Blegen said he would be able to comment on whether the
CIPA process could cause problem for the defense "only until I
see the classified information".

"The charges that are brought out against Rana are the
ones that are in the indictment. The classified information
may relate to completely different people or may be tangiently
related to the case," he said.

PTI