Pakistanis See FBI in Shadows
On the front lines of a shadow war against terror in Pakistan, FBI agents are working undercover with local security forces who have a long history of human rights abuses.
The joint effort is cloaked in secrecy. The U.S. and Pakistani governments won’t officially discuss exactly how many FBI agents are working in Pakistan, citing security concerns and the political fallout that President Pervez Musharraf could face.
Some Pakistani officials say privately that the number of FBI counter-terrorism specialists in Pakistan is in the low hundreds. An FBI official, speaking in Washington on the condition of anonymity, confirmed that “between several dozen and a hundred” FBI agents are in Pakistan at any one time, working closely with local and federal police and intelligence officials.
Some human rights experts contend that any FBI agents or other Americans involved in the initial arrests share criminal responsibility if the detainees are tortured or mistreated later.
Pakistan, according to the FBI official and other U.S. law enforcement authorities, has become one of the most important--and active--beachheads in the bureau’s anti-terrorism effort. But it is also among the most sensitive given the country’s strong undercurrent of Islamic extremism and anti-Americanism.
The FBI’s precise activities are unclear. Officially, about a dozen agents are providing “technical assistance,” including sharing information on terrorist groups and training Pakistani police to track down and apprehend Islamic militants. Other agents are working with Pakistani police in old-fashioned “search and arrest” dragnets.
There have been some high-profile successes in the cooperative effort, including the capture of a top Al Qaeda leader, Abu Zubeida, and some of his lieutenants in March at a fortified safe house in Faisalabad, and the identification of suspected “dirty bomber” Jose Padilla.
But there is mounting suspicion in Pakistan that U.S. investigators, believed to be from the FBI or CIA, are involved in the pursuit and arrest of people who have then disappeared, or quietly been deported, as Musharraf’s government tries to control Islamic extremists.
In interviews, relatives of terrorist suspects have described groups consisting of two to four foreigners participating in Pakistani police raids, usually as silent observers who closely monitor searches.
FBI officials, as well as a senior Pakistani military officer involved in the anti-terrorism effort, confirmed that agents have gone on many such raids dressed in local garb so as to not attract attention. Those agents, said one FBI official, are acting in an advisory capacity only.
None of the detainees’ relatives or lawyers suggested that U.S. officials were directly involved in harming anyone, but they said they do fear that Pakistani police are torturing the prisoners once they are out of sight.
The U.S. is a signatory to a 1984 treaty that bans participation or complicity in the torture of prisoners or other forms of mistreatment. The prohibition became U.S. law, said Kenneth Roth, executive director of the New York-based Human Rights Watch.
“If they are actively participating in the arrest and incommunicado detention of a suspect, anyone involved in law enforcement knows those circumstances are an invitation to torture,” Roth, a former federal prosecutor, said from New York.
“So they would have to demonstrate considerable naivete to think these people were going to be put up in a five-star hotel,” he said.
Some U.S. constitutional scholars and legal experts said that even with the treaty, it would be nearly impossible to hold the United States liable for the actions of its partners in the war on terrorism, including the torture of a suspect.
To do so, a plaintiff would essentially have to prove that the torture was done at the direction of the United States, or with the direct participation of U.S. officials, said Jonathan Turley, a professor of constitutional law at George Washington University.
“You can’t just make the case that the U.S. failed to intervene,” Turley said. “It would require a very high level of proof.... It is a very high threshold.”
In Pakistan, arrests without warrants, disappearing prisoners and mysterious deaths in detention are chillingly common, human rights reports by the U.S. government and private groups have shown.
For years, the reports have shown a pattern of police abuses, including torture, the rape of female prisoners and illegal detentions to pressure the families of wanted suspects.
The FBI official said the bureau and Justice Department are acutely aware of the potential pitfalls of pairing up with local police in countries such as Pakistan, where the accepted standards of police behavior are lower than in the United States.
Many such countries, U.S. officials said, engage in torture of suspects and other human rights abuses. How to conduct overseas investigations in alliances with such governments is an ongoing problem in the growing assault on terrorism, they said.
These operations go beyond Pakistan, and beyond the FBI, which has made the transition from a primarily domestic law enforcement agency to one focused on gathering intelligence. The United States has deployed CIA agents, State Department officials, military intelligence operatives and others in covert capacities to go after terrorism cells the world over.
But Pakistan is considered critical because potentially hundreds of Al Qaeda and Taliban members are thought to have found a haven there after the U.S. military strikes in neighboring Afghanistan.
“What do you do [otherwise]?” one FBI official said. “Not do an investigation?
“We go where our leads take us,” the official said. “If there is a presence in another country, we will work with the law enforcement and intelligence services in those countries. But because a particular intelligence service has been accused of abuses does not mean you can walk away from investigating matters in that country.”
The FBI and Justice Department officials would not comment on a U.S. role in any particular raids. But witnesses to the arrest of Atta ur Rehman, suspected leader of the radical Islamic group Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, connected to the kidnapping and murder of American journalist Daniel Pearl, suspect that there were indeed U.S. agents present.
The June 16 police raid on the home of Rehman’s family went down just before the first call to prayer, when everyone was still asleep in a shanty house targeted as a terrorist’s lair.
Pakistani Rangers, whose officers use the assault rifles, armored vehicles and heavy machine guns of a military force, kicked open the flimsy front door. Then dozens stormed into the house waving assault rifles and shouting for people to put their hands up, witnesses said. Rehman’s sister Kulsum Bano hurried into another room to hide her face.
By the strictures of purdah, the ancient tenet of orthodox Islam that guides a woman’s modesty, she could not be seen by any male outside her family, let alone angry police who rousted her from bed.
In another room, the police found the man they wanted: Rehman. Police know him better by an alias, Naeem Bukhari, and say he commands the notorious Lashkar-e-Jhangvi.
Rehman had given them the slip two years earlier, but authorities began searching for him in earnest after he and his militants were accused of kidnapping and murdering Pearl and bombing the U.S. Consulate here.
Rehman was living in his family’s home when the police came to get him just two days after a suicide car bomber attacked the consulate, killing 12 Pakistanis. FBI agents joined the investigation immediately after the blast.
Watching from the shadows while police searched her home, Bano noticed four foreign men in plainclothes among the uniformed federal Rangers. They didn’t say a word but moved from room to room, closely watching the search of cabinets, drawers and other areas, she recalled recently.
Because the foreigners never spoke, Bano said she has no idea who they were.
About half an hour after storming into the house, police dragged Rehman by the hair and collar, and shoved him into a white car at gunpoint.
That’s the last his family has seen of him. A provincial judge ordered local police to produce Rehman in court. They insist that they don’t have him, and never did.
“We fear that they will torture him to death because they are not acknowledging his arrest and are not disclosing his whereabouts,” his sister said.
The day after the raid, Bano’s lawyer went to the provincial High Court to file a habeas corpus application, which demanded that police either charge Rehman or set him free.
In the application, she accused police of taking her brother without an arrest warrant, illegally detaining and torturing him, and demanding a bribe of about $5,000 for his release.
She named four officers from the Sindh provincial force’s criminal investigation division: Deputy Supt. Zulfiqar Junejo, Inspector Sajjad Haider, Supt. Farooq Awan and Officer Fayyaz, whose first name was not given.
Anwar Alam Subhani, the force’s law officer, denied in a July 31 affidavit that Sindh police had arrested Rehman.
The affidavit also denied local newspaper reports, quoting unnamed police officials, that said police seized a massive arsenal--including four truckloads of ammunition, plastic explosives, 242 Kalashnikov assault rifles, 136 rocket launchers and 2,700 hand grenades--when they arrested Rehman. Bano claims that police left her house with only her brother and a roll of film, which she says were wedding pictures.
Three days earlier, police raided the Karachi home of another suspected Lashkar-e-Jhangvi member, Mohammed Faisal Bhatti, around 4:15 a.m. In an affidavit, his mother, Shahzada Begum, accused three of the police officers named in Rehman’s case of kidnapping her son. Three foreigners in plainclothes were with about 25 Pakistani police in the family’s apartment for about 10 minutes, Begum said.
Speaking off the record, police have told Pakistani reporters for several different publications that they have Rehman and at least two other suspects in Pearl’s murder locked up.
They say they don’t want to charge the men, or publicly acknowledge that the suspects are in custody, because they would undermine evidence that convicted the accused mastermind of Pearl’s murder, Ahmad Omar Saeed Sheikh, and three accomplices last month.
Pakistani police investigators have also suggested privately that they believe Rehman ordered that Pearl be killed. One Karachi police source claimed that Rehman brought in three Yemenis to carry out the murder and the dismemberment of Pearl’s corpse.
A Pakistani police officer who participated in a separate raid on the Karachi hotel room of a U.S. citizen said four FBI agents, one of them a woman, joined in the June 1 operation after Pakistani police failed to persuade a desk clerk to cooperate.
Acting on information from U.S. officials, the police went to the Metropole Hotel and asked the desk clerk to let them into the room of an American identified as John Turner, said the source, who spoke on condition he not be named to protect his job.
Turner, the source added, was a documentary filmmaker traveling on a U.S. passport, issued at the U.S. Interests Section in Havana. It contained valid visas to enter Pakistan and neighboring Afghanistan.
The desk clerk only let the police go up to his room after FBI agents arrived and insisted that he let them in, the source said. The FBI agents interrogated Turner for about two hours, and he told them that he had been in Afghanistan working on a documentary in ethnic Pushtun areas where the ousted Taliban regime is still popular.
During the questioning, the police source added, Turner was critical of U.S. policies in Afghanistan and what he called Washington’s support for Israel against the Palestinians. Both are popular views in Pakistan, and Turner hadn’t broken any local laws, but the source said he was deported anyway.
In a personal court action challenging the FBI’s role, Karachi lawyer Suhail Hameed went to court Aug. 2 to demand that Musharraf’s government show under what, if any, legal authority U.S. agents are working in the country.
Judges Zahid Kurban Alavi and Ghulam Rabbani dismissed the petition. They said it was inadequately drafted because, for example, it failed to include specific allegations of wrongdoing.
The lawyer told the judge that he had kept it vague for fear of being branded an Al Qaeda supporter but said he may return to court seeking answers on FBI activities.
Islamic extremists have already declared war on the FBI in hundreds of leaflets distributed in Pakistan’s North-West Frontier Province and the South Waziristan tribal area, along the border with Afghanistan, as recently as early this month. The leaflets name 120 people accused of spying for the FBI and say Al Qaeda members will receive $100,000 for each one killed.
Suspicion that FBI agents are aiding Pakistani police who routinely break the law only feeds seething anger among a small but very dangerous minority of Pakistani radicals, warned Khawaja Naveed Ahmed, a Karachi lawyer who recently proved in court that police had secretly detained four of his clients for more than two weeks in a police station.
“America is the flag-bearer of human rights all over the world,” the lawyer said. “In our country, 70% of the people are silent. Only people who are either political or victims are vocal. They naturally are saying this is not a good practice. It’s making new enemies.”
Watson reported from Karachi and Meyer from Washington.