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Wednesday, May 4

U.S. government goes to lengths to shield Pakistan's ISI at Rana trial in Chicago. Once again, keep your eye on the USG's little cat feet.

This follows on my Tuesday post. The quotes I've pulled from ProPublica's latest report on the upcoming trial of Tahawwur Hussain Rana will be upsetting to anyone who believes the U.S.-Pakistan relationship will change in significant fashion in light of the revelation that Osama bin Laden was quartered in a Pakistan garrison town.

The ProPublica report presents clear evidence that all costs, including running roughshod over the American criminal justice system, the United States government will continue to cover for Pakistan's military and intelligence services, as it's done for decades. This is a point I emphasized in the Tuesday post so for anyone who thought I was being unduly pessimistic, read on. And be sure to read the rest of the report at the ProPublica site.

Note from the report that the U.S. "intelligence community" still refuses to look at the Mumbai massacre in the context of the history of Pakistani military-sponsored terrorism and massacres going back decades. The community, at least according to the source ProPublica quotes, still insists that rogue officers, not the ISI institution, were responsible for the massacre in Mumbai.

Before proceeding with the quotes I'll note that ProPublica is an award-winning nonprofit American investigative journalism organization. It's been keeping a close eye on Rana's upcoming trial and other issues related to the 2008 massacre in Mumbai, India -- to my knowledge the only U.S. media outlet that's doing so despite the fact that six Americans were killed in the massacre. Here's the link to earlier ProPublica reports on the issues.

I've also included excerpts from a report posted at the Times of India news website that provide additional details about Rana and his trial.

May 4, 2011, 5:11 p.m.
Pakistan’s Terror Ties at Center of Upcoming Chicago Trial
by Sebastian Rotella

It may be years, if ever, before the world learns whether Pakistan’s powerful Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate (ISI) helped hide Osama bin Laden. But detailed allegations of ISI involvement in terrorism will soon be made public in a federal courtroom in Chicago, where prosecutors last week quietly charged a suspected ISI major with helping to plot the murders of six Americans in the 2008 Mumbai attacks.

The indictment has explosive implications because Washington and Islamabad are struggling to preserve their fragile relationship. The ISI has long been suspected of secretly aiding terrorist groups while serving as a U.S. ally in the fight against terror. The discovery that bin Laden spent years in a fortress-like compound surrounded by military facilities in Abbottabad has heightened those suspicions and reinforced the accusations that the ISI was involved in the Mumbai attacks that killed 166 people.

“It’s very, very troubling,” said Congressman Frank Wolf, R-Va., chairman of the House Appropriations sub-committee that oversees funding of the Justice Department. Wolf has closely followed the Mumbai case and wants an independent study group to review South Asia policy top-to-bottom.

“Keep in mind that we’ve given billions of dollars to the Pakistani government,” he said. “In light of what’s taken place with bin Laden, the whole issue raises serious problems and questions.”

Three chiefs of Lashkar-i-Taiba [LeT], the Pakistani terrorist group, were also indicted in Chicago. They include Sajid Mir, a suspected Mumbai mastermind whose voice was caught on tape directing the three-day slaughter by phone from Pakistan. Mir, too, has links to the ISI. He remains at large along with the suspected ISI major and half-a-dozen other top suspects.

Despite the unprecedented terrorism charges implicating a Pakistani officer, the Justice Department and other agencies did not issue press releases, hold a news conference or make any comments when the indictment was issued last week. The 33-page document names the suspect only as “Major Iqbal.” It does not mention the ISI, although Iqbal’s affiliation to the spy agency has been detailed in U.S. and Indian case files and by anti-terror officials in interviews with ProPublica over the past year.

“Obviously there has been a push to be low-key,” said an Obama Administration official who spoke in an interview last week and requested anonymity because of the pending trial. “There is a desire to make sure the handling of the case doesn’t mess up the relationship” with Pakistan.

The first public airing of the ISI’s alleged involvement in the Mumbai attack will begin on May 16 with the trial of Tahawwur Rana, owner of a Chicago immigration consulting firm. Rana was arrested in 2009 and charged with material support of terrorism in the same case in which the four suspects were indicted last week. The star witness will be David Coleman Headley, a Pakistani-American businessman-turned-militant who has pleaded guilty to scouting targets in India and Denmark. Rana allegedly helped Headley use his firm as a cover for reconnaissance.

Rana’s attorney, Charles Swift, contends that Rana is not a terrorist because he thought he was assisting the ISI with an espionage operation. Swift said the U.S. indictment omits the ISI in hopes of mitigating tensions. [emphasis mine]

“The U.S. is attempting to walk a fine line between disclosure and non-disclosure,” Swift said.

“What’s unusual is that the reason is to protect diplomatic relations... This indictment answers a few questions, but like everything else in this case, it raises even more.”

Even before the bin Laden slaying, the Obama Administration had taken a tougher tone about the ISI’s alleged links to militants. But a U.S. official said this week that U.S. counter-terror agencies still think that any involvement in the Mumbai attacks was limited to rogue officers.

“No one is saying we can’t work with the ISI -- people are just pointing out the problems that exist,” said the official, who requested anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue. “I think the problems are largely with individual officers as opposed to the institution.”

May 5, 2011, 12:58 a.m. IST
26/11 co-accused Tahawwur Hussain Rana arraigned in Chicago court
PTI via Times of India

CHICAGO: Pakistani Canadian Tahawwur Hussain Rana, the co-accused in the Mumbai terror attack case, has been arraigned for the trial that is set to begin on May 16.

Clad in an orange jumpsuit, Rana appeared in the Dirksen Federal Courthouse looking around and exchanging pleasantries with his attorneys.

Rana's attorney Patrick Blegen told Judge Leinenweber that he required time to translate about a 1000 pages of Urdu text in preparation for the trial set for May 16.

The next status hearing is set for May 11, after which there will be jury selection.

Opening statements by both the prosectors and defense willl be presented on May 23.

While co-accused David Headley has pled guilty in plotting the carnage, Rana has pled not guilty in providing material support to the attack.

Rana was indicted by a federal grand jury under 12 counts on Feb 15 last year for planning out the carnage, providing material support to LeT to carry out the bombings, and guiding Headley in scouting targets in Mumbai in the process.

Headley, who was originally Daood Gilani, changed his name in order to carry out the carnage without being caught.

Rana, who had served as a doctor in the Pakistani Army Medical Corps, before he migrated to Canada, is also accused in plotting an attack with Headley on a Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten that published blasphemous cartoons of Prophet Muhammad.

If convicted, Rana faces a possible life sentence. On April 25, in a second superseding indictment, US prosecutors charged four additional men, all Pakistani residents, in the 26/11 terror attacks that left 166 dead including six Americans.

According to court documents filed on May 2, Rana objected to government's jury instructions and said that the government understates the benefits that Headley has received from the government in this case.

As made clear in Headley's plea agreement, Headley is also avoiding extradition to India, Denmark, or Pakistan for his conduct, "so long as he fully discloses all material facts concerning his role with respect to (his) offenses and abides by all other aspects of (the plea agreement)".

Furthermore, Headley received numerous small benefits from the government during his post-arrest interview and proffer sessions normally not provided to those in custody, including hotel accommodations, specially arranged meals, and visits and phone calls with his wife and children, the documents state.

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