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The Adiala 11

February 19, 2012

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STATES sometimes dispose of their citizens. Abduct them, torture them, kill them. All states have done it at some point or the other in their history.

Many states still do it and some with more impunity than others. When Bashar al-Assad recently told Barbara Walters, “We don’t kill our people ... no government in the world kills its people, unless it’s led by a crazy person,” you may have snickered and called Assad crazy.

But Assad isn’t crazy — or any crazier than you have to be to run an Arab hereditary dictatorship — he’s killing his people because he wants to extend his rule. Quite likely, Assad genuinely believes that were it not for his leadership and policies, Syria would suffer great harm.

That’s usually why states kill their own people: they do it for the sake of what they believe to be the collective good. Yes, sometimes there really is a madman involved and he kills because he likes and wants to. The macabre equivalent of, just because.

For the most part, there aren’t madmen in the Pakistani state apparatus. But there are killers. They need to be stopped. Not because one day they might kill you, me or the lot of us but because we don’t want to live in a country where the state disposes of any of its citizens.

A clandestine judge, jury and executioner working in the recesses of the state is inimical to all things good that a state ought to be aspiring to in the 21st century. If that sounds like weak-kneed moralism, so be it.

I think it’s safe to say that most of us would rather be on the side of Tom Cruise’s character in A few good men than Jack Nicholson’s Col Jessep. “You want answers?” “I think I’m entitled to them.” “You want answers?” “I want the truth!” “You can’t handle the truth!”

Actually, we can handle the truth.

Eleven men were scooped up by the ISI after being set free by the courts. The army believes they weren’t just terrorists but a very special category of terrorists: those who have directly targeted security installations and personnel.

History suggests nothing quite earns the ire of ‘security agencies’ like targeting them deliberately and wilfully. So now we have an implicit justification for the miserable fate of the Adiala 11, courtesy an unnamed ‘security official’ via an official news service:

“Sympathisers of terrorists have forgotten the miseries of those 28 innocent families who suffered the loss of their loved ones in Hamza Camp attack in which these 11 detainees were arrested. Media should reach out to those families of victims who embraced shahadat at the hands of these Adiala Jail detainees.”

Four of the Adiala 11 are dead, probably through a combination of starvation and beatings, and the other seven are in a condition so miserable that decent people were horrified at the sight of their broken, barely alive bodies.

But our unnamed security official isn’t horrified. Instead, he’s angry and wants to know why the media doesn’t care about his comrades and the other innocent people whose bodies were turned into charred heaps after the Adiala 11 had struck.

Most modern societies have figured out that it’s probably best not to ask the victims’ comrades, friends or relatives what to do with the perpetrators. Vengeance, not justice, usually animates their response.

Which is why there is general horror at the fate of the Adiala 11. The public at large, untouched by the spirit of vengeance in the present instance, have seen the dead bodies and extreme suffering of the 11 and recoiled. This is not the kind of state they want to live in.

But our unnamed security official probably isn’t a monster either. He thinks justice is being served. The investigative, prosecutorial and judicial systems are too broken to allow the Adiala 11 to be punished for their crimes. Hence the resort to the extrajudicial.

There is, though, a streak of monstrousness at work here. The 11 could also have been disposed of in an ‘encounter’. Quick bullets to the head, ‘justice’ served. But there appears to be an intention to inflict pain, that before they pass on to the hereafter the Adiala 11 suffer for what they have done. Hence the broken, starving bodies.

The clandestine judge, jury and executioner have determined a particular kind of punishment and they are methodically enforcing it.

Merely exposing them will not prevent it from occurring again, or save the seven who are still clinging to life. The simple, unhappy reality is that public exposure is not enough to deter states from disposing of their own citizens. The law itself must become a deterrent. Do this and you will be punished.

Our unnamed security official would rail against this. Why don’t you demand that the law and the process ensure the Adiala 11 are punished for their crimes, he will ask. We are working to keep you safe from these murderers and terrorists, he will scream. Why do you care more about terrorists than about your fellow Pakistanis, he will remonstrate.

“You weep for Santiago, and you curse the Marines. You have that luxury. You have the luxury of not knowing what I know. That Santiago’s death, while tragic, probably saved lives. And my existence, while grotesque and incomprehensible to you, saves lives.”

There are many Col Jesseps in the recesses of the Pakistani state.

Our unnamed security official is institutionally hardwired to argue against the obvious. But his are not either/or questions. A state which does not dispose of its own citizens — a state which does not abduct, torture and kill its own citizens — and a state that punishes terrorists and militants are not mutually exclusive goals.

If guilty, the Adiala 11, now down to seven, must be punished. But punishment cannot come at the hands of the victims’ comrades. Vengeance extracted in the name of justice is not justice; it must itself be punished.

The writer is a member of staff.

cyril.a@gmail.com