Fact finding mission on illegal arrests of terror suspects: Teesta

By Md. Ali, TwoCircles.net,

Human rights activist Teesta Setalwad is planning to take the cases of terrorism suspects, those who have been illegally arrested and tortured and detained in India’a ‘war on terror.’ TwoCircles.net’s Md. Ali spoke to her about her views on terror investigations and plans for defending terror suspects.

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TwoCircles.net: There are some reports in media that you are going to take up the case of Abu Bashiar Islahi, the alleged mastermind of the Ahmadabad serial bomb blast.

Teesta Setalwad: We are first of all going on a fact finding mission. Because it is not only the case of Abu Bashar but a series of cases that have emerged recently in India in which there have been illegal arrests and torture on the name of “fight against Terror”.

In fact there have been a series of cases in which the empirical evidences have been let go by the authorities. Like the use of Ammonium Nitrate in the bomb blasts in Panwal and Thane and there are lots of others.

There are lots of loop holes in the manner the investigative agencies have conducted the process of investigation. For instance the hasty departure of Kenneth Haywood from Delhi though he has been given a look out notice. For us it is extremely mysterious and we are finding that no political party has spoken against it.

TwoCircles.net: But the Anti Terror Squad, Maharashtra has already given him a clean chit.

Teesta Setalwad: Please hear me out. I am saying the Narendra Modi government and persons like L.K. Advani who are pouncing on the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government at the centre for every small opportunity. How come they have not taken up the issue of Kenneth Haywood’s departure which is a clear failure of Central Intelligence.

(Kenneth Haywood is the man from whose Internet Protocol address the e-mails containing terror threats which were sent to the TV channels just before the Ahmadabad serial bomb blasts on 26 July 2008.Although a national look-out had been issued against him Kenneth Haywood gave the Indian intelligence a slip and escaped to United States on Monday.)

The ATS had said that it had nothing against him but they were due to do his narco-analysis test and he was asked not to leave the country, there was a look out notice against him. Look out notice means that your name and passport number is there at every airport and every border point.

If you look at Kenneth Haywood’s background, it is very suspicious. The Indian Express about fifteen-twenty days back and Hindustan Times today have carries report about his suspicious background. The mainstream media has been monitoring that his antecedents have been very suspicious.

Campbell White is supposed to function in 49 countries but it is in fact not a multi national company. It is Evangelist and is possibly associated with the Christian Rights. So we don’t know there for what this company was up to.

In any case I would just suggest that there is an Indian in America who was in a similar position of Kenneth Haywood. About two years back his computer was traced to send emails to the president of US George W. Bush and the Vice-President Dick Cheney.
His name is Vikram Buddhi who is son of a navy captain. And he is languishing in a US jail.

Why in this case there was such haste? Because he was White and an American?

Surely the Indian Intelligence authorities should have thoroughly gone through his antecedents before he was allowed to go. At the end of the day it was his computer (from which the emails which contained the terror threats were sent.)

So there are many suspicious things to do with the blasts.

The Surat blasts are almost like a joke. They were found in hoardings (and the tree tops) and they didn’t go off. The police is not able to say whether they were placed before or after the Ahmadabad blasts.

The whole vehicle trail, the whole issue of gas cylinder trail and there are many questions like these which the Gujarat police has not been able to answer.

Its not just the Gujarat police whether it’s the Bangalore blasts or the Jaipur blasts, we have unfortunately reached a situation where empirical evidence is being given the go by the authorities. And therefore we are looking into this whole question as to where the loopholes are.

TwoCircles.net : That is why you have decided to do some fact finding.

Teesta Setalwad: Yes, because increasingly in Uttar Pradesh we are finding that all persons who are being booked for the so called terror related cases are not being allowed legal assistance and legal help.

TwoCircles.net: In fact there have been some cases of legal boycott to the accused by the legal fraternity in the terror related cases in the cases.

Teesta Setalwad: Yes, that is right. There was legal boycott and there was attempt to browbeat their lawyers. Now we believe that there were lawyers doing this that is what our information is. And if lawyers are going to indulge in such anti-Constitutional acts we would like to ask what the Bar Association of Uttar Pradesh and the Bar Association of India is doing on this?

Have we become banana republic that we don’t allow legal help to accused of certain offences?

TwoCircles.net: But there is one thing that the alleged mastermind of the Ahmadabad serial bomb blasts Abul Bashar Islahi has already confessed about his role in the blasts.

Teesta Setalwad: I don’t want to go into this specific case, I told you we are going to do a detailed fact finding before we finalise our ultimate strategy on how we intervene in this case.

But the point which remains as far as confessions are concerned, confessions need to bear up to the testimony in a court. Police confessions are often under torture, I am not saying this one was necessarily under torture. But we can not always go by what police and investigation team tell us about confessions.

We must maintain the ability to distance ourselves from what the police and the intelligence agencies are telling us.

Unfortunately the whole climate created by the “war against terror” and the way the Indian authorities, whether its National Democratic Alliance (NDA) or the UPA are dealing with the issue, is not allowing the normal questions to be asked.

The space for rational questioning is narrowing down and that is very dangerous thing in any democracy.

TwoCircles.net: What do you mean by normal questions?

Teesta Setalwad: Questions that I raised. You raised a question which a journalist would not normally ask. You ask me a question that Bashar has already confessed. Now normally a journalist will not believe a “confession”.

I am a journalist of the 80s and not 2000. Journalist of 80s would always question what the authority says, whether it is the police, whether it is the IB.

So if Bashar has made a confession under the police remand, automatically in our mind that is suspect.

This is the point I am trying to make. We have to understand that even in a court of law, even under Indian court, confessions under police remand don’t have a high validity in a court of law, yet in the public mind the kind of propaganda offenses that the Anti Terror Squad and the IB agencies are indulging in, we are being told that whatever the police says we are expected to believe.

Now this is a very dangerous situation in any democracy, particularly when we know that our authorities do not respect the rule of law, that we have a situation when the politicians indulge in hate speech against certain section and they are not prosecuted against, and the same agencies then tell us that what they have got is correct and what is true.

So I hope that Indian democracy, our institutions, particularly the judiciary is able to maintain a rational distance from this hysterical discourse, that is all I have to say right now.

TwoCircles.net: But it hasn’t.

Teesta Setalwad: I don’t want to say any thing at the moment.