David Coleman Headley, the accused in 26/11 Mumbai terror strikes, who was sentenced to 35 years in jail last week by a Chicago court, can’t appeal against the judgment, and neither will he be entitled to ask for parole during his prison term. Judges, who pronounced the judgement, defended their decision against allegations, especially from India, of mild punishment for a severe crime, saying that “Headley will have no life left by the time he will complete his sentence and that the judgement ensures that he spends the rest of his life under lock and key.”
Meanwhile, the victims of Mumbai attacks and the Indian government, vehemently registered their resentment over “mere 35 years for 26/11 massacre accused.”
While pronouncing his judgment, the presiding Judge Harry Leinenweber said, “Headley is a terrorist. …Easy penalty is death penalty.” And then he went on to impose 35 years imprisonment.
A five-year supervision will follow his sentence. The judge waived his right to appeal; and there will be no parole.
A victim of Mumbai attacks, Linda Ragsdale appeared in person and, on behalf of the Mumbai victims, contested the United States government’s recommendation. She made an intense appeal before the judges: “35 years [of imprisonment] will dishonour those who have died in Mumbai.” But her appeal fell flat.
While delivering the judgment, Judge Leinenweber drew a stark parallel between Denmark terror accused Sajid Mir’s and Headley’s statements. Sajid Mir during a planning meeting of Denmark plot had said, “All Danes are responsible [for publishing Prophet Mohammad’s cartoons].” Headley in his testimony during trial had said: “[All] Indians are responsible for killings in Kashmir.” The judge ruled that “this is a collective view…it’s most troubling.”
Soon after the judgment, the US attorneys went into a pacifying exercise and addressed the awaiting mediamen. US attorney Garry Shapiro faced a volley of questions from the pressmen who sought explanation over reasons in seeking just 35 years for a crime in which 166 people were killed. They cited recent examples of US shootings and some drug-related cases wherein much harsher sentence had been imposed for crimes that did not result in as many deaths.
In response, Shapiro refused to call “35-years” a light sentence. “When he [Headley] gets out his life expectancy can’t be much,” he said, adding that “the entire aim of this exercise is to encourage future witnesses to help us to bring terrorists to justice.”
Shapiro disclosed that “these attacks, Mumbai and Copenhagen, are still under investigation. We believe there are people who still need to be investigated and perhaps charged. That’s something we can’t talk about.”
Earlier, the judge cited the US Government’s Position Paper (GPP) as a reason for delivering the lesser sentence. In its position report, US Government had pleaded leniency for Headley.
As regards to other defenders in this case, Shapiro said, “They are fugitives. We will try to get our hands on them and get them here to prosecute them in the US.”
He categorically stated that Headley “cannot be extradited to India for the crime he has been convicted of but if, hypothetically speaking, the plea agreement was voided then our agreement of extradition is voided as well.”
Earlier, the judge cited the US Government’s Position Paper (GPP) as a reason for delivering the lesser sentence. In its position report, US Government had pleaded leniency for Headley. While seeking a 30-35 year imprisonment for Headley, Government Prosecutor Collins said that Headley started cooperating with the government immediately after his arrest.
The GPP submitted to the court dwelt at length over the type of cooperation that Headley provided. In a significant mention, the GPP disclosed that “before his arrest became public, Headley communicated with several associates at direction of law enforcement.” Obviously, this would have been through telephone, but it does not state who these associates were. The government did submit sensitive information sealed for the eyes of the court only, but the court did not elaborate on its details.
The government stated: “Headley continued to speak with investigators for two weeks before his arrest was publicised.” During “dozens of proffer sessions” Headley provided extensive detail about Lashkar-e-Tayyeba (LeT), including its organisational structure, leadership, recruitment, fundraising, training, planning of attacks and potential targets. He also provided “extensive details about Illiyas Kashmiri and his network.”
Prosecution claimed that it was through Headley’s cooperation that Sajid Mir (LeT), Abu Qahafa (LeT), Mazhar Iqbal (LeT), Major Iqbal (ISI), Illiyas Kashmiri (Al Qaeda, HUJI), Abdur Rehman Hashim Syed (LeT, HUJI), and Tahawwur Hussain Rana (LeT) could be indicted in this case.
Prosecution informed the court that “Headley has agreed to provide testimony in any proceedings in the US as well as in foreign judicial proceedings held in US by way of deposition, videoconferencing, or letters.”
The lead attorney of Headley also appealed mitigation on similar lines: “It’s not a reward for Headley, but a recognition of cooperation, and setting example for other people to cooperate.”
The Judge while deciding on quantum stated that 35 years sentence will ensure he spends rest of his life under “lock and key.” Headley, now 52, will have to do a minimum of 85% jail time of this sentence. His detention time since his 2009 arrest will also get adjusted against this sentence.
As he stood before the judge, greying Headley showed no remorse. But he did write a personal letter to the judge expressing remorse. Headley wrote that, “I am capable of change, and I feel that I can make a positive contribution.”
The judge ruled: “I don’t have faith in Headley.” He cited two prior instances of 1980s and 1990s when Headley was arrested and he had started cooperating. Each time he was handsomely rewarded. “He cooperates to save his life,” said the judge.