One would like to know more than what one has come by so far about the killing of Major Sinha. There were two ongoing investigations of the murder—a rare thing—and the report from one, instituted by the home ministry, has been submitted. Usually, one would hear very little of a criminal investigation till the framing of charges. Thus, very little of the Rab investigation has come to light.
However, the very little but useful information emanating from the home ministry inquiry, makes one wonder whether deliberate attempts are being made to keep as many holes as possible in the investigation to divert the focus of the case. What good is an inquiry, for whatever purpose it is set up, if it is incomplete and encumbered with "limitations", as the home ministry's inquiry is? The chairman of said committee has admitted as much. However, even if the inquiry has no locus standi, one would hope that its findings would be of help to the investigating officer of the case, including the fact that the killing was motivated by ill intention, according to at least one newspaper.
Unfortunately, there are also subtle attempts being made through most obfuscatory statements from certain officials to infuse such elements in the investigation process as would create doubts regarding the role of some of the accused in the killing of Major Sinha. It is surprising the way senior police officers, unrelated to the inquiry or with the local police administration, and sitting in Dhaka, are making statements that appear to paint ostensibly exculpatory circumstances in favour of the officer-in-charge (OC) of Cox's Bazar police station.
It has been more than a month since Major Sinha was brutally murdered in a preplanned manner by the police in Teknaf. And it is more than apparent from what one has learnt from the news in the media on the killing that the top cops of the Cox's Bazar police station were either present on the spot or aware of what was going to happen. There is much more than had met our eyes initially as to the motives behind the killing. The argument being offered is that the main accused was not present at the place of occurrence, as if that is enough to exonerate an accused from his complicity in and abetment of the crime. Does one have to be present in situ, to be involved in a crime?
That is what instigates one to ask whether Major Sinha's case demands a judicial inquiry. Although the issue of judicial inquiry in this case is infructuous, since the court has taken cognisance of the case and the investigation is in the hands of Rab, a judicial inquiry would have been in the hands of a magistrate, who would have been independent of the agency whose personnel are the alleged culprits. And police investigations, one cannot discount, are more likely than not to be heavily weighted by subjectivity if the accused happens to be policemen. Besides, there is always the slip between the process of police inquiry and the charge sheet, and the exact formulation of the charges. This is not just any other police inquiry, since those accused of perpetrating the preplanned murder are policemen.
I am ill-informed as far as legal matters are concerned, but I understand that every killing which involves a state force has to be followed up by a judicial inquiry, to determine the circumstances and ascertain the justifiability of that action. I recall that a judicial inquiry was held in the death of a smuggler (a head load carrier) who died while being chased by the law enforcers along the border near Benapole in July or August 1974. I cite this "insignificant" instance to show that the law holds that the life of a pauper is as valuable as that of a prince, which no state, let alone a state agency, can forfeit without the proper legal process. The said inquiry demonstrated the commitment to law by the administration of that time. How very far we have drifted from those values and principles!
Unfortunately, extrajudicial killings have become such a regular phenomenon that judicial inquiry would be a waste of time, a cosmetic effort at best. However, there is at least one recent example of judicial inquiry into an extrajudicial killing that may not starkly resemble the case of Major Sinha, but it involved the law enforcing agency. It was the case of one Arzu Miah who was, allegedly, killed in what Rab described as a gunfight in mid-August, 2015.
Arzu Miah was summarily done away with, as was major Sinha, allegedly, after being picked up by Rab. Furthermore, about a week into the alleged gunfight, the commanding officer of the concerned Rab battalion was withdrawn from command. The move, according to Rab, was to ensure a fair probe into the allegation raised against said commanding officer. Never before the Arzu Miah killing did we have a judicial inquiry on crossfire killings, and hardly has a case been registered before this particular incident on this count, let alone leading to the commanding officer of a Rab battalion losing his command because of it. And at last there was an acknowledgement, at least from one Awami League MP, that innocent people do get killed in "crossfire". Arzu happened to be a Bangladesh Chhatra League leader.
The above illustration reinforces the logic of withdrawing the superintendent of police (SP) of Cox's Bazar from his current post since there is alleged complicity on his part in the killing, and his continued presence in his current appointment is likely to influence the probe, leaving aside the very real possibility of tampering with evidence. The home ministry report, according to the same newspaper that reported on the SP, validates this apprehension. Some of his actions create doubts in one's mind. The roles of some low level police officials of the police station is questionable too. Hiding or destroying evidence equals to abetment of the crime, and there are reasons to believe that some incriminating evidences have been removed or destroyed. We would hope that the investigation officer would be able to dig those out. We hope too that he would be able to access the calls unless of course the calls have, by some act of Providence, ceased to exist. One cannot put such possibilities aside.
The obvious lackadaisical approach in handling the case indicates the questionable motives of the local police. It is a case between the "State and the Accused" (who happen to be former police personnel), and one would expect that the police administration would have nothing more to do with the case except to play the role they would, i.e., assist the State, and only the State, in the legal process. Is this the case? One is not sure.
We believe that lies and fabrications, distortions and deceits have a very short shelf life, but only if the process of the inquiry is not deliberately tampered with.
The army chief's call for exemplary punishments reflects the sentiments of the people at large. But much would depend on the investigation. This being a test case, it is important for the administration to ensure that evidence is not tampered with, witnesses are not intimidated and nothing new is cooked up to deflect, distort or misdirect the legal process. The truth must prevail, and the guilty meted the severest punishment.
Brig Gen Shahedul Anam Khan, ndc, psc (Retd), is a former Associate Editor of The Daily Star.