Saturday, January 22, 2011

Journalists raise questions in Daniel Pearl death

Journalists raise questions in Daniel Pearl death

Ahmed Omar Saeed Sheikh is the alleged mastermind of the ...

(01-20) 04:00 PST Karachi, Pakistan --

The four men imprisoned for killing Wall Street Journalreporter Daniel Pearl were not present during his beheading but were convicted of murder because Pakistani authorities knowingly relied on perjured testimony and ignored other leads, says a report released Thursday.

The results of the Pearl Project, an investigation carried out by a team of American journalists and students and spanning more than three years, raise troubling questions about Pakistan'sdysfunctional criminal justice system and underscore the limits U.S. officials face in relying on Pakistani authorities.

The four men convicted in the killing did help kidnap the American journalist, according to the investigation. But it says forensic evidence known as "vein-matching" bolsters the confession of alQaeda No. 3 Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, the professed mastermind of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the United States, to having killed Pearl.

The report says at least 14 of 27 people involved in abducting and murdering Pearl in 2002 are thought to remain free. And the four who have been convicted could be released, if their appeal is ever heard, because of false and contradictory evidence used in their trial.

Pearl, 38, was abducted from this southern port city Jan. 23, 2002, while researching a story on Islamist militancy after the Sept. 11 attacks. On Feb. 21, 2002, a video of Pearl's killing was delivered to U.S. officials in Pakistan. His remains were found in a shallow grave on Karachi's outskirts three months later.

Within months of Pearl's disappearance, Ahmed Omar Saeed Sheikh, a British citizen of Pakistani heritage, and three accomplices were caught, charged and convicted of murder and kidnapping. Sheikh, called the kidnapping's mastermind, was sentenced to death in July 2002. The three others were given life terms, which in Pakistan usually means 25 years.

Since then, the men's appeals have gone nowhere in the courts, despite dozens of hearings. Both the defense and the prosecution blame each other for stalling tactics. And there is constant speculation that Sheikh is being protected, possibly by Pakistani intelligence agencies.

Defense attorney Rai Basheer said the prosecution knows it would lose on appeal and is delaying the process, but prosecutor Raja Qureshi dismissed those claims.

"I challenge the defense to come and attend the case properly and consistently, and they will themselves know whose case is weak," Qureshi said.

The Pearl Project's findings appear to strengthen the defense's hand.

For instance, it finds significant discrepancies between Pakistani police reports and later court testimonies. The al Qaeda No. 3 claimed after his capture that he beheaded Pearl. Mohammed is being held at the Guantanamo Bay U.S. military prison, and the confession is believed to have come during interrogation that included waterboarding.

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