On the first day of the deposition of David Coleman Headley before a Mumbai court this week, all those present rose soon after Special Judge G.A. Sanap entered the courtroom at 7 am IST (Indian Standard Time). But deposing from an undisclosed location in Chicago, United States, Headley kept sitting snugly in his chair. “I had to request the court to tell them that they should all rise when the judge enters. Only after the judge gave such instructions, did he stand in honour of the court,” Special Public Prosecutor Ujjwal Nikam said.
“Not just this. There are many legal and procedural lapses during Headley’s deposition. As far as I have seen terror trials, I can most certainly say that Headley is being treated differently,” alleged advocate Wahab Khan, who represents co-accused Abu Jundal.
“Mr Headley”, as referred to by SPP Nikam, is one of the prime accused of the ghastly 26 November 2008 terror attack in Mumbai. He conducted reconnaissance of all the targets, and identified landing points for the 10 Pakistani terrorists to enter Mumbai. Not just that, he also, on his own volition, brought the “raksha suut” or sacred thread outside the Siddhivinayak temple to provide cover to the 10 terrorists as “Hindu men”. Headley told the court on Friday that he worked for Al Qaeda too, without letting Lashkar-e-Taiba operatives come to know about it. He conducted a recce of the strategic locations in India for Al Qaeda within months after the 26/11 attack.
Sitting relaxed in a chair, he is flanked by assistant trial attorney Sarah W. and lawyers Robert Seer and John Tyse. Initially, he was regularly seen switching off the microphone to hold small talk and share a laughter or two with the three, even as the examination continued here. This reduced only after the defence here objected to it. The examination begins at 7 am (IST) and around 8.30 pm as per the Central Standard Time. It continues till 1 pm (IST), which drags it to late night (around 2.30 am) according to the Central Standard Time followed there. Throughout this period, Headley is frequently heard sighing.
In the past five days of his deposition, Headley, a composed, calm and calculative accused-turned-approver, has never referred to the 26/11 terror attack as “attack”, but as “event”. Throwing in names of crucial LeT, Jaish, Al Qaeda operatives and ISI men, his tone is very authoritative, and his demeanour relaxed.
He has referred to the 10 terrorists who attacked Mumbai as “gentlemen”. He also called Ajmal Kasab, the lone terrorist to have been caught alive and later hanged after a trial, as “Rehmatullah Alaih”. In Islam, “Rehmatullah Alaih” is used to refer to a great, pious, religious and spiritually attained man. “Generally, Khwaja Moinuddin Chishti and such other Muslim saints and Sufis are referred to as ‘Rehmatullah Alaih’. If, Headley calls Kasab this in 2016, how reformed do you think Headley himself is? And still, he is being referred to as ‘Mr Headley’ by the prosecution. The prosecution should think a thousand times as to whether they have rightly given pardon to him,” said Wahab Khan.
But when Headley was asked by the court what “Rehmatullah Aliah” meant, he quickly changed his stance and replied, “May God bless him.” After the defence counsel objected and explained the meaning, a smiling Headley leaned forward, placed both his hands on the table and assertively said, “Yes. Yes.”
Later, while clarifying that he had sinister designs in his mind for the Indian Army, Headley could barely contain his smile.
But while Headley referred to the 10 terrorists who attacked Mumbai as “gentlemen”, SPP Nikam kept referring to JuD chief Hafiz Saeed and LeT leader Zakiur Rehman Lakhvi as “Hafiz Saab” and “Zaki Saab”. When asked about this, Nikam said he referred to them as “saab” for “better understanding of Mr Headley”, as Headley himself referred to them as “saab”. Both Hafiz Saeed and Zakiur Rehman Lakhvi are accused of plotting several terror activities on the Indian soil.
But while Nikam’s attitude in calling them “saab” is “merely to aid Headley’s understanding”, Headley’s own attitude through the examination reflects scant respect.
“Listen, if this is about the case, I am happy to answer. But these are questions between me and my wife. And I wouldn’t like to talk. This is my personal life,” he almost reprimanded SPP Nikam one day during questioning. While the point was valid and was upheld by the court, Headley’s tone and demeanour were anything but respectful. Nikam had asked him if JuD chief Hafiz Saeed had called Headley through someone on the plea of Headley’s wife Faiza.
“If this is not in relation to the case, this court will not allow the prosecution to ask you any such questions. If you think that somebody is interfering with your family life, you are free to tell me. We will look into it,” Special Judge G.A. Sanap then told Headley.
At another occasion before Headley identified Ishrat Jahan’s name from a multiple choice question, Nikam asked him, “Did Zaki Saab tell you about the botched up operation of Muzammil Butt?” To which he replied in the affirmative and went ahead to identify Ishrat’s name from the three names given to him as: Noorjahan Begum, Ishrat Jahan and Mumtaz.
During another instance, when Nikam showed him LeT leader Abu Alqama’s picture for identification, he said, “It may be him. But it is not a very good picture.”
During the deposition on another day, the prosecution asked him specifically about a book he had purchased on the Indian Army. The special judge asked him if there was any sinister design behind buying the book. To this, he couldn’t contain his laughter and said, “Yes, My Lord.” The court then told him, “Whenever there is certain sinister design, you are free to open up and tell.” He had said that of the five books he bought from Hotel Taj Mahal’s bookshop, four were “general books brought for no specific reason”. “There was nothing sinister in them,” he said. To this, the special judge asked if there was anything sinister on mind while buying the first book named Indian Army, Vision 2020.
Pointing out lapses during the recording of the statement, Wahab Khan told The Sunday Guardian, “When the evidence is being recorded, the Special Public Prosecutor here keeps standing through the examination. But Headley sits relaxed in his chair, sipping his coffee or fizzy drinks from Starbucks. He hasn’t taken the court’s permission for sitting through the deposition. Legally too, the lapses are glaring. There are several occasions when he switches off the microphone and talks to the attorneys present there. How do we know he is not consulting them? How can he put off the microphone when the evidence is being recorded? He has also read a paper provided to him by the attorney. Is he being prompted? The court here should know what papers are being shown to him,” he said further. Wahab Khan has raised several objections in the court in the past five days of the proceedings.
He is also known to have filed an application stating that Headley referred to notes without the express permission of the court, and that Headley keeps on switching off the microphone during the examination and talks to the attorneys.