Headley’s plea deal requires him to testify via video in foreign trials

Chicago (IANS) The attorney here for David Coleman Headley, a key plotter of the 2008 Mumbai terror attacks, has confirmed that he is aware of an Indian court’s request for a video testimony by his client.

Citing attorney-client privilege, John Theis avoided giving any details other than saying that he is aware of the request for videoconferencing by the Terrorist and Disruptive Activities Act (TADA) court.

Asked by IANS if Headley will testify via video, Theis pointed to the conditions in his plea agreement with the US government that led to the death penalty and extradition to India being taken off the list of possible consequences for his guilty plea on all counts.

A session court in Mumbai on Wednesday named Headley an accused in the Mumbai terror trial and directed that he testify before via videoconferencing on December 10.

If the language of the agreement is any guide, it is possible that Headley will testify via video.

The plea agreement explicitly says: “Defendant further agrees that when directed by the US Attorney’s office, he will fully and truthfully testify in any foreign judicial proceedings held in the US by way of deposition, videoconferencing or letters rogatory.”

Such plea deals are essentially for life and the one making it is required to cooperate with the authorities whenever asked. With that being the case, there should not be anything standing in the way of his video testimony before the TADA court.

The Department of Justice in Washington, which deals with such matters, did not immediately respond to questions from IANS.

Pakistan-born Headley, born Daood Saeed Gilani, is serving a 35-year sentence after he pleaded guilty to all 12 counts of his involvement in the planning of the Mumbai attacks.

Soon after his arrest at Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport on October 3, 2009, Headley gave up his right to a jury trial and entered into a plea deal that spared him the death sentence as well as extradition to India.

The Mumbai case has found renewed resonance here in America in light of the multiple Paris attacks which appeared to have been modelled after the former.

The TADA court’s decision to try him as an accused in the case, however, could turn out to be more symbolic since there are no prospects of Headley being extradited to India for the purpose.

The fact that six American nationals died in the Mumbai attacks gave the US authorities precedence over where he stood trial and, if convicted, where he served his prison term.

It was learned by IANS at the time of his trial that Headley was arrested only in connection with the plot for planning to carry out a spectacular attack on the Danish newspaper Morgenavisen Jyllands-Posten for its 2005 publication of cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed which many Muslims found offensive.

The information about his involvement in the Mumbai attacks came solely from him. It was only after his arrest that the investigators became aware of his involvement in the Mumbai terror attacks as disclosed by him. That disclosure considerably helped him win the plea deal.

From his interrogation videos it appeared as if Headley was desperate to avoid being extradited to India, aware as he was of the kind of hostility that awaited him there.

Some of the interrogation videos, which were played during his testimony in a Chicago court in May 2011, showed a man almost desperate to cooperate. So much so that at one point he sounded upset that the federal investigators were not fully utilizing his information to make major arrests.

To many, Headley’s eagerness to cooperate and help effect major arrests looked to be part of a strategy to mitigate his own complicity.

On the face of it, there are no hurdles in the way of Headley testifying via video. However, what transpires behind-the-scenes is hard to predict.

His attorney Theis gave absolutely no indication as to what follow-up action may be expected after the TADA court’s request.

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