Tape offers “glimpse into secret world”, but bulk of testimony to FBI still classified

A Chicago court has ordered the release of parts of the interrogation of 26/11-linked terrorist David Headley by the Federal Bureau of Investigations.

The court’s order allows media to broadcast elements of Headley’s testimony which were played as evidence in court during his trial-in essence, two brief clips of that show the Pakistani-American jihadist seeking a deal with prosecutors by offering to facilitate the arrest of several of his collaborators.

Key portions of the interrogation, which is believed to include material on Headley’s relationship with the United States’ Drug Enforcement Agency and his links to Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate, remain classified since they were not used during the trial.

Lawyers for Headley’s childhood friend and co-conspirator Tahawwur Rana had insisted on the clips being played during his trial earlier this year.

The FBI, however, said broadcasting the videotape outside the courtroom could compromise the safety of Headley’s family in Pakistan and elsewhere.

The judge, however, upheld arguments by two major media organisations that videos had become public information because they were shown in front of the jury and the spectators in the courtroom, and were described in media reports.

ProPublica, a leading investigative journalism website and the renowned public broadcaster Frontline, had moved court seeking access to the tapes for a documentary scheduled to be broadcast on November 22.

Sebastian Rotella, an expert on transnational terrorism and crime at ProPublica on whose investigative work the documentary builds, told The Hindu that “the brief conversations recorded in the videos do not reveal new or spectacular information, but they give an up-close glimpse into a secret world”.

“The video clips are important”, Mr Rotella, “because they offer a brief window into the interrogation process and a rare look at Headley in action”. “The images show him in a desperate situation and you get a sense of his shrewd, manipulative personality”.

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