A few observations about Tahawwur Rana sentencing

The standard issue ankle chains are designed to obstruct a quick and free movement of prisoners taken outside of the controlled environment of a prison.

However, there are those veteran criminals who wear them and still manage to walk as if taking the last few measured, thoughtful steps towards a lofty goal they had long set their eye on. In reality, it is anything but that.

As I watched Tahawwur Hussain Rana with ankle chains shuffle into the courtroom of U.S. District Judge Harry Leinenweber yesterday, it struck me that he was not one of those criminals. In his orange prison jumpsuit and blue lace-less canvas shoes Rana cut a sorry figure.

Described by his particularly sharp attorney Patrick Blegen as “unerringly polite”, Rana did not seem to give away much of his inner turmoil as he heard a quick back and forth between the defense and prosecution represented by Assistant U.S. Attorney Daniel Collins.

After exchanging a brief smile with his family members sitting together, he sat there waiting for the pronouncement of his actual sentence, although he has been in prison for nearly three years. Rana was originally accused of providing material support to his childhood friend David Coleman Headley carry out reconnaissance and planning for the November 26, 2008, Mumbai terrorist attacks that killed 164 people and wounded hundreds of others as well as to an abortive plot to attack the office of the Morgenvisen Jyllands-Posten newspaper in the heart of Copenhagen, Denmark and indiscriminately killing its employees because it published cartoons of Prophet Mohammed offensive to Muslims. Rana was acquitted of any involvement in the Mumbai attacks but was found guilty of two counts in the Danish case.

While sentencing the 52-year-old  Rana to 14 years yesterday, U.S. District Judge Harry Leinenweber used the word “mindset” at least four times.

His main point was that he did not understand a “mindset” that was so contrary in itself.  "On the one hand we have a very intelligent person who is capable of providing assistance to many people," the judge said. "But what is difficult to understand is: a person with that intelligence and that background and history of helping others … how that type of person could get sucked into a dastardly plot that was proposed."

The judge said, “I am not sure anything I do will deter the mindset of people who really don’t care what happens to them…(That) mindset is not going to be deterred.” It was obvious that the judge did not have deterrence in mind while announcing a sentence that was at the top of the sentencing guideline between 135 and 168 months.

Judge Leinenweber did not elaborate much during his pronouncement but it was clear that he was truly intrigued by the kind of mindset that seems to propel such terrorist plots.

It is conceivable that Rana, a Pakistani medical doctor by training, will be out of prison in about 11 years once good behavior reduction of about 15 percent as well as the time served are factored in. He will be 63 and most likely be deported to Canada, where he is a citizen.

In appealing to the judge for a lighter sentence Blegen said, "Judge, he is a good man and he got sucked into something, but there’s no risk that he’s going to do it again. None.” I don’t think the judge was fully convinced by that.

Blegen also pointed out that his client’s health was poor because he had suffered a heart attack last year and had a stent put in as well as has kidney trouble. Keeping that in mind the judge did grant him a prison facility with access to medical care.

A cursory reading of the Pakistani media this morning indicated that the Rana case has not received much attention in his native. That is easy to explain. Pakistan is so besieged by its own existential challenges that this case does not come even close to being even remotely consequential.

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About chutiumsulfate

South Asians can infer from my name what I am. View all posts by chutiumsulfate

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