Since she came back to power in 1996, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has tried too bring to justice the killers of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman , most of them fugitive and hiding abroad. When some of them were convicted by the War Crimes trial court and a few were hanged, the West cried foul over Bangladesh’s justice system. Now if punishing killers of the ‘Father of the Nation’ in Bangladesh to end the culture of inmpunity is unacceptable, let us check with US judges what punishment they propose to mete out to anyone blowing up the Statue of Liberty — only a statue for us, non-Americans. 9/11 led to US military action in Afghanistan, from which Trump is desperately trying to pull his country out.
The maverick US president may not have read Paul Kennedy’s seminar work on “Rise and Fall of Powers” but his gut feeling , typical of businesspersons, may have got him to scale down American ‘military overstretch’ , the bane of all Big powers down the lane of history.
Hasina’s son and her ICT advisor Sajeeb Wazed, ICT wrote in a recent New York Times piece :
“More than 40 years later, one of my family’s assassins, Rashed Chowdhury, lives at liberty in the United States. He was fairly tried in open court in Dhaka and convicted in absentia on charges of murder and conspiracy to commit murder, even though his former military rank as a lieutenant colonel would have allowed for a court-martial, a far quicker and less transparent process.
Although a fugitive from justice in Bangladesh since 1996, Mr. Chowdhury has never been punished for his crimes. Bangladesh made its initial request for his extradition in 2000 and has waited for more than a decade and a half. It’s past time for him to be sent home to face justice.”
Similar war criminals freely move around in another temple of democracy, Great Britain. They say what the Americans do, the British do it even better. So Chowdhury Mueenuddin , killers of thousands in 1971 , can be a perfect London resident . But Peter Bleach , who dropped a huge consignment of weapons in West Bengal’s Purulia in Dec’1995 , has to be released by India. His partner in crime, Jan Christien Neilsen alias Kim Davy, is not handed to India to stand trial because the Danes also complain about ‘bad prison conditions’ and want a solemn assurance that Nielsen will not be hanged because death penalty is not legal in Denmark. Huh, this Dane was trying to illegally arm a band of Hindu occultists sect to bring down the legitimately elected Left government of West Bengal.
The British government did not hesistate to petition India to provide Bleach with a presidential pardon. What was the argument of British diplomats in India at that time ? Indian prisons are too dirty for this smart Yorkshireman to stay — can you believe it. The Indians succumbed to the British pressure to avoid being plastered with allegations of undermining democracy , human rights and all the rest of it. The same British did not hesistate to hang Udham Singh when he shot General Dwyer , the mass murderer of Jallianwala Bagh , in UK. Not to speak of the countless Bengali revolutionaries who walked the gallows .
Now cut to the present to witness the latest edition of Western double-standards , this time Bangladesh is the target again. On May 7, US ambassdor to Bangladesh, Earl R Miller took to social media to oppose the recent government circular that forbids government employees to resort to controversial posts in social media , specially oppose government measures openly.
In a tweet he mentioned “”Access to reliable and fact-based information provided by free and independent media is vital to protecting public health everywhere.” So in the name of democracy, Bangladesh government servants should be allowed to abuse the PM or his cabinet members, provoke social unrest and religious strife — and they should not be bound by any service conduct rules. Before Miller is allowed to lecture us any further on ‘democracy’ and ‘human rights, let us remind him of Guantanamo Bay water boarding torture sessions (the specialist of that is now CIA chief Gina Haspel) and that the US is the only country in the world to have nuked another nation and plastered poor Vietnamese peasents with ‘Agent Orange’ in a blatant use of chemical weapons , for which they now later blamed Saddam Hussein and Bashar el-Assad.
Let us draw Miller’s attention to developments in his own country, to a White House decision to tighten control of coronavirus messaging by government health officials and scientists.
On February 26, when Mike Pence was placed in Charge of messaging, all relevant government officials were directed to clear all statements and public appearance with the office of Vice President Mike Pence. (https://www.seattletimes.com/nation-world/pence-will-control-all-coronavirus-messaging-from-health-officials/)
According to a report by CNN, Vice President Mike Pence’s office reversed course in early April after declining for days to allow the nation’s top health officials to appear on the television and discuss the coronavirus pandemic, in what was an attempt to pressure the network into carrying the White House’s lengthy daily briefings in full. Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, one of the country’s leading experts on viruses and the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, reportedly, told associates that the White House had instructed him not to say anything else without clearance.
But as they say, if master sneezes, the lapdog catches cold. If US does something, can the UK be far behind ? Immediately after Miller’s tweet, the UK high commissioner to Bangladesh jumped into the fray to ‘protect democracy ‘ and ‘ free speech’ in Bangladesh.
Stressing on access to reliable information provided by independent journalists, UK High Commissioner Robert Chatterton Dickson said, “Amid the C-19 crisis it is even more important that freedom of expression is upheld and the media can do its job.”
Now , like Miller should the US press before he sermonises Bangladesh, Dickson should read the British press before he pontificates.
Healthcare professionals are being silenced and threatened with disciplinary action for speaking out about their work during the coronavirus outbreak, the Guardian can reveal. Many NHS staff are increasingly concerned that their ability to share stories about their work is being restricted by a clampdown on speaking out publicly. It follows reports of doctors and nurses being gagged by hospitals and other NHS bodies from speaking out about widespread shortages of personal protective equipment (PPE). Tactics have included threatening emails, the possibility of disciplinary action, and some people even being sent home from work.
Miller and Dickson have been backed in the spirited effort to rescue democracy and free speech in Bangladesh by other Western diplomats . Let us not waste media space to check out each of their statesments. Just to let them know that they should their own press and see what draconian and desperate measures, specially restrictions on free speech, have been imposed in their countries to fight the ‘infodemic’ accompanying the pandemic. If they are trying to stop Bangladesh from doing what their governments have already done, are they not crossing the limits of diplomatic discourse !
Foreign Minister AKA Momen has recently critiqued this very Western double standards over the Rohingya crisis in an interview to an Asian news website . Bangladesh is supposed to observe all humanitarian norms and shelter and shoulder the burden of the one million Rohingyas in this poor country, but Myanmar will get away with genocide and the West will not push for repatriation , lest Myanmar slides further into the Chinese orbit.
During the last Dhaka’s mayoral polls, ten Western missions flouted the election code of conduct of Bangladesh and attempted to enlist their local staffs as foreign observers. This includes a local political analyst in US embassy , whose Jamaat-e-Islami links are well known and so are his anti-Awami League posturing.
Even during the last national election, a desperate attempt was been made by the embassay officials here to get ANFREL, a regional network of civil society organisations funded by the US through the National Democratic Institute, to send 32 observers to Bangladesh. An Indian commentator pointed out in Somoy TV that ANFREL’s funding line could be traced back to the Bureau of Intelligence & Research of the State Department (Jeff Richelson, US Intelligence Community) which has a fat budget for ‘ regime change operations’ carried through extensive psyops on ‘human rights’, ‘free speech’ and ‘democracy’. These lovely phrases couch vicious disinformation and psyops which are part of ‘influence operations’ that the State Department’s BIR carries out in tandem with the CIA and sometimes the DIA.
From backing the murderous Yayha Khan regime in 1971 to the brutal assasination of ‘Bangabandhu’ ( in which CIA’s role was detailed by Lawrence Lifschultz in his classic “Bangladesh: The Unfinished Revolution”) right down to the blatant manouveres of envoy Dan Mozena and now David Miller, American pontification over ‘human rights’ and ‘democracy’ and ‘free speech’ is not upholding free world virtues but part of ‘regime change influence operations.’
Elements of our civil society , funded by budgets which takes care of ANFREL, join the chorus or ‘human rights and free speech in danger all too willingly. Make no mistake, they are cogs in the wheel of a ‘foreign hand’ which has wrecked the peace in South Asia and now threaten to undermine political stability in Bangladesh, without which the country cannot economically recover from the COVID impact.
(Sukharanjan Dasgupta is author of ‘Midnight Massacre ‘ , an account of the 1975 Bangladesh coup. He is also the recipient of Muktijuddho Padak for his contributions to the Liberation War effort in 1971)