Crossfire killings necessary | The Daily Star
12:00 AM, October 02, 2011 / LAST MODIFIED: 12:00 AM, October 02, 2011


Crossfire killings necessary

Rab's former second man Bari told US envoy

Fazlul Bari

Chowdhury Fazlul Bari, former second-in-command of Rab, during a June 2005 conversation with US embassy officials had described extrajudicial killings in the name of “crossfire” by the force as a necessary, short-term expedient, according to a diplomatic dispatch.
An influential figure during the 2007-2008 tenure of military-backed caretaker regime, Bari also had stated that a “due process” was the elite force's objective.
The cable, marked secret and recently posted on whistleblower website WikiLeaks, was sent to Washington by the then US ambassador in Dhaka Patricia A Butenis on April 13, 2006.
The killings in the name of “crossfire” or “encounter” by Rapid Action Battalion (Rab) have generated concern and ire among local and international rights groups.
After their calls for an end to the trend fell on deaf ears, Amnesty International urged all countries in August this year to stop supplying arms to Bangladesh citing that those would be used by Rab and other law enforcement agencies to commit extrajudicial killings.
An August 23 AI report said since its inception in 2004, Rab has been implicated in the unlawful killing of at least 700 people including about 200 killed after the Awami League-led government assumed power.
Bari, the former additional director general of Rab, later became the counterintelligence director of Directorate General of Forces Intelligence (DGFI).
“I was there at the initial planning,” Butenis quoted Bari as saying. The diplomat also identified him as “a forceful advocate” for Rab, citing a discussion on April 15, 2006 on the margins of the 2006 PASOC conference in Hawaii.
Bari “recounted the origins of the controversial anti-crime unit, disparaged the skills and integrity of police”, and cited the interrogations of Jama'atul Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB) suspects to suggest that Bangladesh's zeal in arresting the August 17, 2005 bombers ironically triggered JMB's deadly campaign of terror in late 2005 as retaliation.
Though the original plan had been to have 44 percent military, 44 percent police, and 12 percent from the paramilitary Bangladesh Rifles (BDR, now Border Guard Bangladesh), police were reluctant to fill their slots, Bari told US officials.
Explaining the reluctance, he said police “earned more money on the outside” from bribes and other illicit activities, the cable said, adding, “Senior police officers, he claimed, preferred to sit in their offices.”
“Military disdain for the police is not new, and police failings are often cited to justify the military's continuing dominance of Rab -- about 80 percent of its total force structure and virtually all of its senior officers except for the director general himself,” Butenis wrote in the cable.
“The police, he agreed, operate like a giant pyramid scheme, where street personnel pass payoffs up to their bosses. Corruption, he added, was one reason police failed to capture JMB commander Sheikh [Shaikh] Abdur Rahman.”
Bari further complained that “police remain unwilling to second able personnel, often providing instead the old and physically unfit. Police personnel lack basic skills, such as shooting, and have no training in special operations”, the cable read.
Asked if there was one political sponsor of establishment of the Rab, “Bari said no, there were several,” the cable said.
The then prime minister Khaleda Zia herself selected black uniform for Rab from six alternate designs, including the distinctive black Rab "doo-rag," it quoted Bari.
Identifying the JMB as a “home grown” military organisation, the former Rab second-man described JMB operatives as poor people who flunked out of madrasas. “Being poor, they could easily blend in as rickshaw pullers and hawkers and go anywhere to recruit for JMB.”
Bari, who attended many of JMB leader Abdur Rahman's interrogations in his capacity at the DGFI, said law enforcement personnel quickly arrested 70 persons involved with the August 17 countrywide bomb explosions by the JMB.
The arrests “angered the JMB rank-and-file and generated internal pressure on Rahman to retaliate and demonstrate that JMB remained a viable entity. The result, Bari claimed, was the onset in October [in 2005 when a number of people including two judges were killed] of the deadly attacks on the judicial system”.
Butenis found it as an “interesting twist” to suggest, as Bari did, that the deadly JMB attacks in late 2005 were an unplanned action triggered by Bangladesh government's zeal in rounding up August 17 bombers.
Along with downplaying JMB's religious credentials as failed madrasa students and describing JMB as home-grown, Bari is toeing the government line that JMB operatives were basically local yokels with little or no interest in “true” Islam, the cable adds.

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