Shah Ali Farhad

ICT: Paradoxical propaganda

December 27, 2012

0Since 2011, Cassidy and Associates (“CA”), one of USA’s largest lobbying firms has as one of its clients, Mir Quasem Ali, one of the 14 indicted by the International Crimes Tribunal (“ICT”) for war crimes committed in 1971. Documents from US congress disclose that CA has assembled a four-member team to lobby the ‘US House of Representatives, the US Senate and the State Department’. The team included its Chairman, Gerald SJ Cassidy, one of Washington’s most influential lobbyists, Mark Clack, one of its senior vice-presidents and Elizabeth Tregaskis, the company’s ‘international specialist.’ (1) Till date, over 500,000 (half a million) dollars have been paid to CA by Mr Ali and his family over regular intervals and currently, Mr Ali’s lobbying needs are headed by Gregg Hartley, one of CA’s Vice Presidents (2).

So, what is CA expected to do for Mr Ali? The stated reason in the registration form lodged with the US Senate reveals that CA’s role is to try and influence the country’s (USA’s) politicians and government officials on the ‘Bangladeshi War Crimes Tribunal’ and issues relating to the ‘political opposition’. G Hartley has already lobbied on the issue in Congress, at the State Department (including Secretary of State Hilary Clinton) and with human rights groups. Thus, to be crude but honest, what CA is trying to achieve is this:  To do whatever it can with its own government to influence and/or pressurise a third world country to back off from a legitimate judicial process which enjoys overwhelming popular support. Such a contention seems prima facie morally objectionable and unethical, doesn’t it? What does the law say in this regard?

Lobbying is a constitutionally sanctioned activity in the USA. The First Amendment to the US Constitution states: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.” Thus, when individuals or groups lobby, they are exercising their basic right “to petition the government for redress of grievances”.

Statutory regulation comes in the form of the Lobbying Disclosure Act 1995 at the federal level. This Act, among other things, defines what is meant by a ‘lobbyist’ and ‘lobbying’, disclosure requirements for financial information, and also provides for registration requirements. The form used for registration requires details to be provided about the lobbyist and the client or employer, and also about the policy issues which will be the subject of the lobbying activity. Reports must be filed at the end of each six-month period retroactively identifying exactly which policy issues and legislation the lobbyist worked on as well as setting out which parliamentary or executive personnel were lobbied. At the state level, with the exception of Pennsylvania, 49 of the 50 states have some measure of regulation. These also provide for additional registration and disclosure requirements.

However, the current laws, at the federal as well as state level, do not provide for any red-light or excluded areas for lobbying as such. A lobbyist may do anything on behalf of their clients as long as it is not outright immoral or illegal. Thus, although there are limits to what the lobbyist can do on any given subject, there are no boundaries on what those subjects can be. My argument is that there should be a clear demarcation of issues which can be lobbied and those which by their very nature should be kept out of the ambit of any kind of influence. The current regulatory framework has resulted in lobbyists being able to be instructed in such a matter where their job is to influence their government’s views or policies regarding a foreign judicial process of immense historical, political and sentimental value to the people of that land. Such sensitive political matters should not be the concern for private lobbyists. These are matters falling within the ambit of official foreign policy.

And the effects of such a campaign are quite visible. Members of the Congress like Rep. Joe Wilson, R-S.C have started raising questions about the case. He has stated in the House that he is concerned that Ali’s “arrest and ongoing detention may represent a thinly veiled attempt by the ruling government of Bangladesh to silence its opponents and critics”. What is worrying is NOT about a US congressman taking interest in Bangladesh’s political or judicial activities. That is perfectly legitimate. The concern stems from the source of information on which such an objection is based. Hartley has already clearly expressed his line of attack on the ICT: it’s a ‘Kangaroo court’ (3).

The strength of the opposition to the trials these days is such that activists and campaigners are finding it difficult to disseminate even the most widely accepted facts and information regarding these crimes. Suddenly, in a matter of a year or so, the Bangladeshi versions of Hitler and his Third Reich find themselves as the most desired object of protection for rights activists, war crimes specialists, and academic commentators. Can you blame anyone if one suspects that the millions of dollars spent on lobbyists have something to do with this change of positions?

It is conceded that the Bangladesh war crimes trials have not been a model judicial process. But,
given the overall standards of the justice system in Bangladesh, one must accept that these trials are a significant achievement when it comes to setting right certain issues relating to the rule of law in a country that suffered so much and paid so much for its freedom. The trial process may not be perfect, but cannot be subject to foreign interference. Bangladesh is trying its own nationals, for crimes committed against its own nationals, in its own tribunal, pursuant to its own laws, financed by its own resources and mandated by its own electorate.

Many Bangladeshis are now finding it hard to trust any further advice USA gives Bangladesh on its judicial or political system generally, or its war crimes trials in particular, given the prevalent perception that these suggestions are likely to be biased, artificial and induced by lobbying. How would the Americans have felt if during the Nuremberg and Tokyo trials, the defendants hired a lobbying firm in the USA to influence the trials of the war criminals or obstruct the judicial process?

It might be worth the US policymakers’ time as well to consider how such lobbying efforts may, in the long run, hurt America’s diplomatic standing. For example, when the US Ambassador at Large for War Crimes Stephen Rapp visited Bangladesh for the first time in the wake of the trial, his visit was not only welcomed by ordinary Bangladeshis but several of his suggestions regarding amendments to the war crimes tribunals’ laws, rules and procedures were implemented by the Bangladesh government. However, now that the story of the lobbying has become public, one would tend to view any US suggestions with some suspicion. The number of sceptics would surely grow at the least. Similarly, questions will be raised about the actions of the US-based rights groups like the Human Rights Watch, for example. With lobbyists up to their task, it is difficult to distinguish between genuine concerns and lobbying-induced pressure.

Just one question for the US people in general and the Congress in particular: Does the basic right ‘to petition the government for redress of grievances’ under the first Amendment to the US constitution include the right to petition the government for blocking other nations’ right to seek redress for their own grievances in their own political and judicial order? If not, then it is high time that the regulatory framework for ensuring ethical standards of lobbying in USA were urgently reconsidered and reformed. At the very least, some areas should be identified as improper for lobbying – meddling in a sovereign country’s affairs, for instance.

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Shah Ali Farhad is a lawyer, blogger, activist and campaigner for the 1971 war crimes trial.

References

1.  http://newagebd.com/newspaper1/archive_details.php?date=2011-10-29&nid=38649

  1. http://www.stltoday.com/news/local/govt-and-politics/political-fix/missourian-in-quest-to-free-bangladeshi-newspaper-owner-from-jail/article_edfe4bb2-f71e-5cc1-89e9-31b290cc8558.html

  1. http://www.stltoday.com/news/local/govt-and-politics/political-fix/missourian-in-quest-to-free-bangladeshi-newspaper-owner-from-jail/article_edfe4bb2-f71e-5cc1-89e9-31b290cc8558.html


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7 Responses to “ ICT: Paradoxical propaganda ”

  1. Ami Mehman on January 6, 2013 at 4:55 am

    Very insightful article! The issue with ICT is not war crime but rather ‘perceived crimes against Awami League’.

    The whole nation is now fully aware of the planned arrangement between Awami League, Brussels and the Judiciary system.

    THE CAT IS NOW OUT OF THE BAG!!!! YOU NEED TO SCREAM MORE LOUDLY TO PUSH PEOPLE AWAY!!!

  2. Professor Tuhin Islam on December 31, 2012 at 2:49 pm

    Dear Mr. Shah Ali Farhad,
    What do you know about war crime in our country during 1971? Is these politicians are so? How? Is there any example in the world to be war criminals from politician like Bangladesh? No, never. Why you peoples are silent about trial of 195 WAR CRIMINALS who were released by a tri-country agreement (India-Pakistan-BD)? Because your target is not war crime trial, rather to destroy rightist forces of our country is it not? TRUTH is really truth for all the times, so wait for that moment when all of you will see the result of these baseless propaganda against these sort of politicians who were authentic honest and popular. Thanks.

  3. Prithvi on December 30, 2012 at 7:16 pm

    Funny how apologists of Jamaat feign “neutrality” and call others “dalal” after hiring an overseas lobbying firm to meddle with a judicial process of the country which has been mandated by the people, as proved by the results of the last election.

  4. Fazlul Huda on December 30, 2012 at 6:44 pm

    There is indeed a campaign going on to foil the war crimes trial. I don’t understand why the people in general don’t realise this.

  5. Fuad Ali on December 28, 2012 at 11:49 pm

    This is one of the dafter articles I have read that toe the ‘carry on regardless’ line. I do not think that sentiments like the following our society can evolve.

    “…given the overall standards of the justice system in Bangladesh, one must accept that these trials are a significant achievement when it comes to setting right certain issues relating to the rule of law in a country that suffered so much and paid so much for its freedom. ”

    A rigged court, tribunal process and result cannot be acceptable to a more just future. We need to evolve beyond this emotional game that you are caught in, please.

  6. Mohammad Zaman on December 27, 2012 at 11:47 pm

    The scribe’s very identity as an “activist and campaigner for 1971 war crime trials”, makes him a partisan thus tainting his opinion of the lobbying effort by certain individuals in the US.

    Petitioning the government by any US citizen for redress of any grievance is a right in the US. Trashing this intra-mural process in the US is not going to make the works the ICT any more kosher.

    Bangladesh should go ahead with legal process, without undue hindrance from the overtly zealous government. And this is the only antidote that can make the ICT immune from foreign influences.

    If it is felt that the perception of the US congress vis-a-vis the ICT is important enough, the campaigners for 1971 war crimes trial has every right to lobby the US congress as well.

    Note: I also am an AL supporter by default for lack of a better alternative.

  7. M.R on December 27, 2012 at 7:53 pm

    The points of contention of this article are not clear. It titles the lobbying allegedly made on behalf of an accused person at the ICT as ‘paradoxical’. What is it paradoxical? It is the stated business of the US lobbying firm to lobby on behalf of its client, all well within the US Laws. It is their legitimate business. They must declare the funds received for the job. They work within the law and thus there is no ‘paradox’ at all.

    On the contrary, the ‘tadbir’ or ‘dalali’ business that goes on in Bangladesh operate in a murky legal environment. The agent (dalal or tadbirkari) never discloses the money involved or that he is even lobbying. The laws are not clear in this respect. Is it legal to accept money to lobby for a client in Bangladesh? No one really knows. Yet it is common knowledge that the ‘dalal’s are involved in paying bribe to government officials, the police, politicians or even jurists to get a favourable decision for his client in all kinds of jobs, be it getting a contract or getting a bail. It is a process that is well known but not talked about in this country. Is it to be called ‘paradoxical’, or simply corrupt as it happens in this country every day of the year? I shall let the reader decide, but request the author to write an article about the nature and virulence of this silent and secret lobbying against payment of hush money. If done it will be a public service indeed!

    This is not to say that I am in anyway suggesting dismantlement or suggest influencing of the legal process against the accused persons at the ICT. What is clear however that such reporting is not at all conducive to a fair and acceptable legal proceedings currently proceeding. Any such ‘propaganda’ against the alleged ‘propaganda’ which in fact is a legal business in the country it is taking place, only confuses the issues, which should be adjudicated strictly and absolutely by law alone. Any other way will simply add fuel to the alleged ‘propaganda’ that the author so labouriously warns about!

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