No terror convictions in Pakistan

Last Updated: Saturday, August 21, 2010 - 00:20

Islamabad: Pakistani courts have yet to
convict a single person in any of the country`s biggest
terrorist attacks of the past three years, a symptom of a
dysfunctional legal system that`s hurting the fight against
the Taliban and al Qaeda at a critical time.

Police without basic investigative skills such as the
ability to lift fingerprints, and prosecutors who lack
training to try terror cases, are some of the main reasons
cited. Another daunting challenge: Judges and witnesses often
are subject to intimidation that affects the ability to

The legal system`s failure to attack terrorism is
critical because it robs Pakistan of a chance to enforce a
sense of law and order, which militants have set out to

It has "caused a sense of terror and insecurity amongst
the members of society," said one of the country`s top judges,
Lahore High Court Chief Justice Khawaja Mohammad Sharif.

The legal failures also call into question the
government`s ability to fight terrorism in any way except by
using the army in military offensives or human rights groups
alleged through targeted extra-judicial killings.

The United States has said repeatedly that its success in
Afghanistan and throughout the troubled region depends on
strong help from Pakistan against militants.

Pakistani army offensives and US missile strikes have
killed some suspected terrorist suspects in recent years in
the rugged northwest near the Afghan border, where militant
leaders and senior operatives are based. The head of the
Pakistani Taliban, the group blamed for many of the 20 biggest
attacks, was killed in a drone strike last August, for example.

Indeed, human rights groups have accused security forces
of carrying out hundreds of assassinations of suspected
extremists or sympathisers in the Swat Valley, which the army
reclaimed from the Taliban last year, rather than even trying
to prosecute suspects in court.

Authorities deny the allegations, saying they do try to
use the legal courts.

But their record is dismal. An Associated Press review found no convictions in the 20 largest and most high-profile terror attacks of the last three years.

Many of the Pakistani court cases connected to those
attacks which have killed nearly 1,100 people have dragged on
for years, or have yet to make it even past the investigation
stage and into the courts.

The handful of cases that have been decided have all
resulted in acquittals though many of these defendants remain
in custody while they are investigated in other cases, court
officials said.

By contrast, 89 per cent of terrorism cases in the
United States have resulted in convictions since the attacks
on Sept 11, 2001, according to a report this year by the
Center on Law and Security at the New York University School
of Law.

The recent acquittals of suspects in two of the most
high-profile attacks -- the 2008 truck bombing outside the
Marriott Hotel in Islamabad and last year`s commando-style
raid on a police academy in Lahore, have highlighted the
problems plaguing the system.

The verdict in the Lahore police academy attack seemed
to defy explanation.

The only person captured during the eight-hour siege in
March 2009 was caught on the academy grounds in possession of
a hand grenade allegedly trying to blow up a helicopter. Other
militants attacked the main building with automatic weapons
and grenades, killing 12 people and wounding dozens.

But the man claimed he was an innocent garbage collector
picking up trash, and was convicted in June only of weapons
possession for carrying a hand grenade and sentenced to 10
years in prison. He was acquitted of involvement in the attack
for lack of sufficient evidence.

Lack of evidence was also the reason given for the
acquittal in May of four men on trial in connection with the
suicide truck bombing that killed 54 people at the Marriott
Hotel in September 2008.


First Published: Saturday, August 21, 2010 - 00:20

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