Mind the pitch

The sentencing of David Headley, the Pakistani-American Lashkar-e-Toiba operative whose scouting missions helped the LeT plot the November 2008 Mumbai attacks, to 35 years in jail in the US brings a long process to a close, although it is clear that the Headley saga is not over. The prosecution sought a lighter sentence, given Headley's cooperation with US authorities, and this has touched off a reaction in India, the site of Headley's deeds and their consequences. By all official accounts, India is also likely to persist with its demand for his extradition, so as to mete out harsher punishment. An emotive pitch has characterised a large part of the official and political response in India. Yet, rhetoric needs to be sobered by the recognition that a legal process has concluded, and that it has not been without results.

There has been no denying of the seriousness of Headley's crime in the course of the legal proceedings the judge himself has expressed his dissatisfaction with the sentence. However, as attorney Gary S. Shapiro pointed out, irrespective of how sound intelligence or investigative techniques are, witnesses are necessary. If Headley had not entered the plea bargain the deal that is the irritant for India, and which has saved him from a tougher sentence or possibly the death penalty it would have been difficult, if not impossible, to gather from him the information he has parted with on the structure, personnel, modus operandi and capabilities of the LeT. Based on such information, the authorities have filed criminal charges against several others, while Headley's testimony helped secure the conviction of co-defendant Tahawwur Rana. Moreover, Indian authorities had not only been granted access to Headley, but the door also remains open for them to investigate or initiate judicial proceedings through deposition or video conferencing.

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