Friday, March 19, 2010

David Headley - Justice denied, mocked at, or negotiated?

I hear on the news that David Headley has pleaded guilty on all the 12 charges against him. He did so after being assured that he would not be given the death penalty, nor would he be extradited to India. So what happens next? I suppose he will get a sentence for 186 years or some such thing. The US attorney general has said - "not only has the criminal justice system achieved a guilty plea in this case, but David Headley is now providing us valuable intelligence about terrorist activities. As this case demonstrates, we must continue to use every tool available to defeat terrorism both at home and abroad."
OK, I see the point. But I cant ignore the irony that such confessions have to be bargained and negotiated for, against a promise of deferring the death sentence. I am not debating on whether death penalty should exist or not. That's a separate debate altogether. I am distressed by the thought - doesn't this give the convict an escape route?
It is yet another debatable issue that if Headley had actually been extradited to India, would he have been convicted (and convicted quickly enough) to be punished. Going by the way Kasab's trial is progressing, Headley would have probably spent several years shuttling between court and custody. So - does this trial solve anything? As far as healing the wounds of 26/11 victims, no punishment to either Kasab or Headley will ever be enough. The scars are permanent. Which brings me to a question that has bothered me for years.
What is the purpose of a punishment? I am thinking of different options and just checking if the Headley case has achieved any.
To undo the wrongdoing that the convict had done upon the victim? - No. I doubt if that can be achieved in this case, going by the enormity of his crimes.
To reform a criminal and get him back to become a good citizen? VERY unlikely in this case. Don't forget that Headley has already spent two years in US prison in 1998 when he was arrested for drug-trafficking. So the punishment appears to have done nothing to reform him. If at all, it just made him an even more dangerous person.
To serve as a warning for others who might be plotting a similar heinous act? I would hardly imagine that to happen. If potential assasins were going to worry about being hanged, no assasination would have taken place in India after Nathuram Godse was hanged.
I am still searching for the answer. what is the purpose of a punishment?


Maithili Desai said...

It sure is infuriating... the fact that both, Headley and Kasab are not getting punished. (The fact that lakhs of our tax money is being used for Kasab's security is ultimately outrageous)
But you really got me thinking about the purpose of a punishment; I guess at the end of the day, it is just plain and simply avenging the victim.
You killed; you should be killed too.

g2 said...

The Americans have a rather different way of working...

They would rather keep a person in jail and get all his secrets than hang him. This worked well in their fight against the mafia and they are doing the same.

The system lacks political justice but is effective in a way. So, even I am confused about the kind of "justice" delivered.

umashankar said...

Deterrence. The society - and I use the world in a larger sense wherein it includes the state too- especially, the Indian society, has forgotten the value of deterrence. Our state has already pampered M/s Kasab beyond endurance and it may be but a matter of time before a plane or a hotel is hijacked and the killer is set free. If that is being cynic, maybe the state will someday hang him silently somewhere in a prison cell, decades from today. Maybe not.

For a society to remain viable, a crucial pillar like LAW has to be flexible and amendable as per the call of the times. Hang Mr Kasab and anyone associated with him in full public view and leave the wretched body hanging by the neck for the entire day. Barbarism? No Sir/Madam, Humanism. We are desperately suggesting methods for saving the lambs. Even if you believe it will not have any impact on the suicidal terrorists, you'd admit it will have the smaller fries shaking with the fear of death. Ditto for the killers of Nithari, Priyadarshini Matto, Manoj Kumar Gupta (PWD Engineer...(Is there an end?)

Hari said...

Great post. Punishment will work in some cases from preventing further crimes (serial killer, rapist and so on). But punishment is not a deterrent. But few countries are willing to look at it that way for fear of political repercussions.

Mary et Remi said...

I personally don't view it as his punishment, but more or less a "he's off the streets and can't harm anyone else" sort of thing. I believe that's the only peace of mind they can achieve at this point. Honestly, people as far gone mentally as he, punishment means nothing. If you're willing to plot mass murders, train suicide bombers, or be one, etc., life itself for you is meaningless, you have nothing to lose. Therefore, being caught and "punished" means nothing.

Pushkaraj said...

@ Maithili Desai The infuriating sentiment does make one feel like saying - you killed, so you should be killed. But does it serve the PURPOSE? I am confused. Thanks for the comment anyway.
@ g2 - Thanks. That's a good insight about US law system. I suppose when it comes to mafia and the druglords, it helps to keep them in prison and get the secrets out. But a terrorist. On second thoughts, I suppose the terrorist is already prepared to die for the cause (a wrong one, of course) so he/she is not really bothered about being hanged.
@ Umashankar - Whether you hang someone in public or private, how do you counter the Islamic fundmentalist terrorist who thinks that death will eventually land him in heaven?
@ Hari - Couldn't agree with you more. Punishment to a terrorist and avoiding further terror attacks are two independent and mutually exclusive realities. One does not affect the other!
@ Mary et Remi - Yup, that's the extreme view that a terrorist has anyway. He/she is beyond the fear of death.

Asif said...

Very much thought provoking indeed. Apart from many questions like you have presented, I dont have much valid answers. what ever answer i zero in on, there is always a loop hole or a condition for that. Hence I think its better to follow certain things in life for the good of humanity even though we dont completely agree with them.
Even though all my life I was totally against the ways of punishment, in fact umashanker's comment made me think again in this case. Actually what he said about Humanism is so true.
Even now I did not understand whether US is actually encouraging the terrorism in the world or discouraging it. Yet to find a valid answer for this too.