75% of Pakistani terrorism cases result in acquittals

The La Times reports that in Punjab Pakistan’s  largest and wealthiest province, nearly three of every four terrorism cases in 2009 and the first six months of this year ended with acquittals, according to provincial court records. And while army offensives have dented militant activity in the restive Swat Valley and parts of the largely ungoverned tribal badlands along the Afghan border, experts say a reliable justice system buttressed by sound police work is essential to a broader containment of terrorism.

Legal experts say militants are walking free because police investigators lack basic evidence-gathering techniques to build solid cases. Investigators eager to get terrorism investigations off their desks are also prone to framing Pakistanis on trumped-up charges. More often than not, judges see through the frame-ups and acquit the defendants.

Any overhaul of Pakistan’s criminal justice system, legal experts say, should start with a wholesale modernization of the country’s outdated legal code so that prosecutors have more authority over terrorism investigations. Currently, when police submit a weak, flawed terrorism case for prosecution, criminal law in Pakistan does not give prosecutors the discretionary power to reject it.

The Danish Embassy bombing case is an ideal example. Tayyab’s star witnesses were two Islamabad police constables who said they had seen two men in a car signal the car bomber to pull up to the embassy wall. Moments later, the car bomb exploded, blowing a gaping hole in the embassy wall. The men in the car sped off.

No arrests were made until a year later, when three men were charged in Islamabad’s next-door city, Rawalpindi, with murder. The Islamabad constables said when they saw two of those men in a lineup, they identified them as the men who had signaled the embassy bomber.

Even Tayyab acknowledged having doubts about the constables’ claim of remembering the faces of two men they had seen only momentarily a year before. The judge was just as skeptical.

“It was in my mind that it’s unsafe to rely on this,” Tayyab says. “And the judge agreed. He said, ‘It’s unnatural. They had no ample opportunity to note the features of these people. How can you say this is possible?’ “

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