At first glance, there would seem to be no reason to turn our attention to a lawyer’s protest in a place 10 time-zones away on the other side of the world. After all, don’t we have enough on our plate in the
In truth, it is probably always a smaller world than we imagine. Black Flag Week, which starts Monday, is set to commemorate the deposition of Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry last year on March 9, 2007, the catalyst of a courageous lawyers' movement - and a political firestorm - that has engulfed
As Aitzaz Ahsan has noted, Iftikhar Chaudhry was at first an unlikely figure to serve as a rallying symbol for human rights and against the military government. The bench in
Justice Chaudhry ordered the government to produce the prisoners in court, and to either charge them or release them. Meanwhile the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP), Amnesty International, and other human and civil rights watchdog groups documented the various cases of prisoners who had been released and subsequently intimidated into not speaking of their detainment, neither to the advocacy groups, nor to the press. Nevertheless, some did speak, and as time went on a picture emerged of detentions that included harsh interrogations, deprivation of food and medicine, and, ominously, many released prisoners said they had been interrogated in the presence of American CIA. Other human rights groups have documented that some prisoners were sent to Bagram Air Base in
All of these actions gave Musharraf and those around him the feeling that Justice Chaudhry could not be trusted to allow Musharraf to change the rules and run for another term. Furthermore, he was questioning some privatization deals that were rushed through. So Musharaff sacked Justice Chaudhry. The lawyers protested throughout the summer, and Justice Chaudhry refused to go gently into that good night. When the case made it to the Supreme Court, they unanimously voted to reinstate him. The court ruled against Musharraf numerous times, and ordered him to produce documentation about the disappeared prisoners in court by November 13th . On November 3rd President Musharraf suspended the Constitution and arrested thousands, including the lawyers, and judges, and the human rights commissioners. He constituted for himself a new court - and a new verdict - and got himself elected to a new term. HRCP Chairperson Asma Jahangir wondered rhetorically, when called during her house arrest, if President Musharraf was so concerned with terrorists that he suspended the Constitution, why were the people being arrested secular lawyers and human rights activists, while the President made deals with militants, many of them sworn to al Qaeda?
In the end, it really is a small world. Preventing the release of the disappeared prisoners protects our government from charges of mistreatment and torture in the same way that the FISA retroactive immunity does – it prevents cases from coming to court. The torture, the waterboarding? Many of its victims were arrested and disappeared in
Aitzaz Ahsan, Newsweek:
Frontline Rough Cut.
Carlotta Gall, New York Times: Picture of Secret Detentions Emerges in