Why had four of their fellow captives died under mysterious circumstances?
Who was responsible?
Today, the court seems little closer to officially finding out, despite Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammed Chaudhry’s rising impatience and occasional displays of pique toward Pakistan’s military spymasters, mainly the Inter-Services Intelligence agency, or ISI.
Chaudhry had his latest confrontation with the nation’s powerful military during hearings last week that focused nominally on the seven prisoners but extended to many other purported terrorists, insurgents and sympathizers allegedly scooped up by the army without charges. For what appeared to be the first time, the government last week publicly disclosed holding 700 such suspects and said they are being detained in internment camps in the tribal areas along the border with Afghanistan.
The hearings held echoes of U.S. cases involving the Guantanamo Bay prison and CIA “black sites,” with references to putative criminals held for years without charges and subjected to the Pakistani version of “enhanced interrogation techniques.”
The Pakistan case has its roots in a November 2007 suicide attack on an ISI bus in the northern city of Rawalpindi that killed a number of the spy agency’s officials. Originally, 11 men were arrested and tried on charges stemming from that and other attacks, but an anti-terrorism court acquitted them in April 2010 because of lack of evidence.
The men were released but quickly disappeared, allegedly picked up by the ISI in front of Rawalpindi’s Adiala jail, from which they had just emerged victorious. They would be tried under the terms of military justice according to the Pakistan Army Act, asserted the nation’s intelligence agencies, which detained the men pending charges.
Since then, four of the “Adiala 11” have died. Human rights activists and relatives of the deceased say they strongly suspect that the men were starved in captivity, denied medical treatment and fatally tortured. The ISI cites natural causes.
In February, acting on a petition from a captive’s mother, Chaudhry demanded that authorities bring the seven other suspects to court. Media images of the emaciated men shocked many in Pakistan.
In the latest hearings, the chief justice has asked the intelligence agencies to produce the evidence it had against the seven, who are presumably still alive.
Raja Irshad, an ISI attorney, said under questioning that the military had still not gathered relevant evidence that could result in convictions. But the ISI considers the detainees dangerous, Irshad said, adding: “The agencies don’t arrest people who have clean records.”
When criticized in the past for holding suspects without charge, intelligence officials have complained that the rules of evidence in Pakistan’s legal system are flawed and allow for even confessed terrorists to walk free.
But, Chaudhry said, “without any proof, it is illegal to keep these persons in the detention center.” The chief justice warned of unspecified action against those found responsible.
Human rights activists and ISI critics say Chaudhry has made some progress in bringing accountability to the military, but only to a point. The seven Adiala suspects, after the hearing in February, were immediately returned to ISI custody.
“So how effective was that intervention?” asked Kamran Shafi, a former army officer who is a harsh critic of the ISI. “There is so much left to be done. . . . The ISI and the army do what they want, and that’s the end of it.”
Human rights advocates have been clamoring for years for Pakistan’s military to be held to task for extrajudicial acts, including killings and forced disappearances, in violation of the constitution. Some see impetus for continued reform in a newly muscular judiciary, as evidenced by Chaudhry’s court, and public shaming through protests supporting due process.
“Gone are the days when the army was able to twist the arms of the judiciary,” said Tahira Abdullah, a longtime rights activist. “Absolutely, for good. They will never come back.”