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31 March 2009 | South Asia

Civil Court or Court Martial in BDR Massacre case?

Sunita Paul

Pro-Awami League lawyer Advocate Anisul Huq (who is also the chief counsel in Bangabandhu murder case), told vernacular daily Amader Shomoy that, trial into the massacre, murder, rape and lootings inside the Bangladesh Riffles (BDR) headquarters cannot be held under Court Martial.

He said, under Military Act or BDR Act, there is no room for holding trial of the massacre, while under the International Criminal Tribunal Act of 1973, the trial into this particular case is not possible.

The detailed interview of this pro-ruling party lawyer was prominently carried as the lead news in the vernacular daily just before few days of releasing the investigation report. It is well apprehended that a large number of politicians belonging to the ruling party are going to be named as accused and co-accused in this notorious massacre. Anticipating this, possibly some influential leaders in the ruling party have become active in mobilizing various forces in at least saving their fate from facing Court Martial.

Meanwhile, once again, the questioned, Human Rights Watch (HRW) has issued a statement expressing its concern for the BDR soldiers, who are under scrutiny for obvious reason inside the headquarters by various intelligence agencies. Till date, a few hundred BDR men are already identified to be directly or indirectly involved behind this heinous crime or murder, rape, brutality etc. I wrote another piece few days back on the activities of HRW titled ´Leaving crocodile tears for the killers in Bangladesh´. My readers will know the back ground and untold story of HRW's over-enthusiasm in leaving tears for the killers, after reading that article.

HRW in its latest statement said, "The government of Bangladesh should take urgent steps to ensure that those detained in connection with the massacre of 74 people at the Dhaka headquarters of the Bangladesh Rifles (BDR), the country's paramilitary border guards, on February 25, 2009, are not subjected to retribution, including extrajudicial killings, torture, and other mistreatment."

It said, "An apparent mutiny by members of the border guards against their army officers left 55 senior army officers and 19 others dead, including the director general of the border guards and his wife. The government, police, and army have begun parallel investigations into the incident. As of March 24, 693 border guard personnel had been taken into custody.

"Human Rights Watch urged the government to conduct a transparent and swift enquiry to identify those responsible for the killings and to prosecute them in civilian courts.

"An apparent mutiny by members of the border guards against their army officers left 55 senior army officers and 19 others dead, including the director general of the border guards and his wife. The government, police, and army have begun parallel investigations into the incident. As of March 24, 693 border guard personnel had been taken into custody.

"Human Rights Watch urged the government to conduct a transparent and swift enquiry to identify those responsible for the killings and to prosecute them in civilian courts."

Here is the beginning of my comments. Human Rights Watch is continuing to demand trial in ´civilian courts´, while the pro-ruling party lawyer also made a similar opinion. More importantly, his opinion was published in a very prominent manner. Why? At whose instruction? What is the reason behind such over-enthusiasm?

In the same newspaper, a commentary in Indian newspaper The Statesman was prominently published at the front page.

Manash Ghosh, Editor of The Statesman in this editorial opinion put several points. But, let us just bring here only a few points, which will give a scope to my readers to think about the reason behind such editorial as well as its re-publication in Bangladeshi press.

Mr. Ghosh wrote, "THE purpose behind "mutinous" Bangladesh Rifles' jawans killing 55 army officers at their Dhaka headquarters in Pilkhana on 25 February was to invite severe armed retaliation from the military. This sinister, well-planned move -- a product of deep-rooted political conspiracy -- had the potential of provoking a countrywide armed conflict between the 68,000-strong BDR paramilitary and 150,000-strong army. Such a conflict might not only have plunged the country into bloody civil war but also ensured the ouster of Sheikh Hasina's democratically elected secular left-of-centre government and even her assassination."

Here is my comment! Mr. Ghosh almost discovered a conspiracy theory behind the Massacre thus showing green-card to the ruling government by giving it the certificate of innocence. How and wherefrom he got all such conspiracy details? He wanted to justify that Sheikh Hasina or her government is not behind this brutal massacre. In this case, my first question to him is, why the PM was wasting time in allowing Bangladesh army to storm in to the Bangladesh Riffles headquarters, which would have saved several lives and dignities of women?

Then Mr. Ghosh continues to say, "actually, the original plan of the pro-Pakistan conspirators, according to the latest official findings, was to kill the Prime Minister at a special dinner on 24 February at BDR headquarters, to which Hasina had been invited by the paramilitary's director general, Major General Shakeel Ahmed. But she had a providential escape as her "heavy workload" kept her away from the function. This led the conspirators to opt for an alternate plan -- to embark on a killing spree of army officers serving the BDR the next morning so as to create the "desired impact and inflict maximum damage". The 25 February massacre was executed jointly by a small band of "with direct links with Bangladesh Nationalist Party and the Jamat-e-Islami who had been smuggled into Pilkhana in a grey SUV that morning and a select group of young BDR recruits, inducted during the last years of Khaleda-Jamat rule."

Here is my second question. Wherefrom the Statesman editor obtained official findings? From talkative minister Lt. Col. Faruk Khan? Mr. Ghosh also gave a false information. Sheikh Hasina was already in the BDR headquarters on February 24, 2009 and she was not having any dinner invitation for that evening. This is again false information. The dinner invitation was for February 26, 2009 where Hasina Wajed decided not to attend due to prior intelligence warning.

Mr. Ghosh also wanted to say that, the BDR men had nothing to do with the murder and brutality but some ´imported elements´ in grey color pickup were behind this! What a shameful lie by the editor of a prominent daily!

Now, let us see another portion of his comments, where he said, "The BNP-Jamat masterminds so successfully camouflaged their political agenda by highlighting the genuine grievances of the jawans against their officers that initially ordinary people and even the media overwhelmingly supported the mutineers' "just cause". Processions were even taken out in old Dhaka hailing the mutiny as "Sipahi janata bhai bhai" to garner popular support."

Wao, what brilliant lie! Does the editor of Statesman know that the procession was brought out by none but leaders of Bangladesh Awami League and the activists of the ruling Grand Alliance? Meanwhile, Awami League leader Torab Ali and his son are already arrested by the law enforcing agencies for their direct involvement behind the massacre and for bringing out procession.

It may also be mentioned here that, Barrister Fazle Noor Taposh, a lawmaker from the ruling party asked his workers to make announcements from mosques urging local residents to move into 2-3 kilometer distance. This was done by this man with the goal of allowing the BDR men to flee from the spot of massacre. By now, investigators are already sure of this fact.

Statesman editor then wrote, "How well planned the conspiracy was can be gauged from the fact that the killings took place within an hour of the "mutiny"."

This is also false information. According facts, murders took place inside the BDR headquarters in several phases. This was already disclosed by several BDR men as well as those rescued army officers.

Now is the most interesting point by Mr. Ghosh. He wrote, "Such brutality sent shock waves through Bangladesh. But these sadistic acts were soon to convince even ordinary Bangladeshis that this was no spur-of-the-moment outburst by mutineers but a pre-meditated, well-calculated move to inflame the military, the goal being to force the army to launch retaliatory strikes on Pilkhana and 48 small and big BDR camps located close to the border with India and the numerous BDR border outposts."

Here the editor rejected any pre-planned conspiracy. But, we remember what he said at the beginning of the article. How the editor already missed what he wrote before?

The Statesman said, "Khaleda Zia and Jamat leaders wanted an all out military offensive on Pilkhana and other BDR camps even if this meant declaration of a full-fledged war against the paramilitary."

Yes, if Khaleda Zia or anyone else was looking for offensives to combat mutineers then it was very correct decision. Where did the editor of Statesman find anything wrong? Does he remember how our Indian army stormed into various places of mutiny including the Golden Temple or Hazrat Bal Mosque?

Manash Ghosh then wrote, "She was heckled and abused by a section of army officers, some of whom even bayed for her blood. They blamed Awami League leaders for the massacre. Their anti-army speeches in parliament, according them, had provoked the killing. Not a word was said against the BNP and the Jamat, although their leaders had said far worse things against the military top brass, especially the army chief."

The way of expression of the editor is to provoke Sheikh Hasina Wajed in punishing those army officers for their 'abusive attitude and for baying Hasina´s blood'. He also said, none of the army men uttered single word about BNP´s members of parliament saying bad thing about army inside the parliament. How does he know the entire proceedings inside the closed-door meeting room inside Dhaka Cantonment that took place between Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina Wajed and army officers? Who handed over the details to him? Anyone from Awami League?

In reality, according to YouTube released contents of the meeting, the army officers expressed anger against all politicians. Not only against Awami League.

And then, Mr. Ghosh said, "At the funeral of the slain officers, a section of army officers abused and actually turned away senior Awami League ministers and leaders whereas those from the BNP and Jamat were allowed to take part. Army chief General Moin was also abused and pushed around by junior officers, which amounted to gross indiscipline and violation of the army code."

This is possibly put with the intention of instigating the army chief in drawing disciplinary actions against those 'angry army officers', who were heavy with shock at the brutal murder of their colleague brothers.

And here is the most interesting portion of Mr. Ghosh´s article. He wrote, "The Padua killings put Hasina's government in such a tight spot that before she air-dashed to Delhi she telephoned then Prime Minister AB Vajpayee to apologise and express "deep regret" over the incident. According to one former Awami League minister who was present during Hasina's telephone call to Vajpayee, she said "sorry" 12 times."

Sheikh Hasina Wajed should now investigate who might be that former minister, who leaked secret conversation between the heads of state to a journalist.

Bangladeshi intelligence, while investigating the BDR massacre issue, should also check the mystery behind Statesman´s editorial and its special re-publication by a section of local press. There should also be investigation into the case to findout as to who are patronizing the continuous statements of organizations like Human Rights Watch or local newspapers leaving tears for mutineer BDR men.

There is already a growing doubt in the minds of the people about the fate of the investigation or trial of the killers and their patrons, who brutally murdered army officers and committed various forms of crime including rape etc. There is even rumor that, General Moeen U Ahmed may finally bow to the desire of the ruling government in exchange of his recent renewal of service and other benefits in sending the investigation report into cold storage. Every sensible member of the society wants to believe such are mere rumors without any base.

General Moeen U Ahmed and the members of the investigation committee as well as thousands of officers and soldiers in Bangladesh Armed Forces should not compromise with this extremely important case. They must see all the killers and perpetrators punished. In the name of saving one innocent life thus allowing dozen culprits to get relieved, some vested interest groups are actively trying to mislead the Bangladesh Army. This is not any small incident of showing minimum sympathy. This is a case of grave shock and tremendous loss for Bangladesh Armed Forces. The very existence of the Bangladesh Armed Forces depends on stern punishment to the killers and their patrons. Otherwise, episode will change. In that case, Manosh Ghosh's comments will turn into subject of action by the ruling government. Each and every officer, who expressed anger during the funeral or Darbar at Sena Kunja will be brought into disciplinary action by the government.

This is the time for Bangladesh Army and patriotic people to decide, whether they want to give chance to the killers and theri patrons or accord highest punishment.

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