Documents from U.S. State Department throw new light
Information obtained from several documents of the U.S. State Department throws new light on the extradition of Warren Andersen, CEO of Union Carbide India Limited and the prime accused in the Union Carbide industrial disaster.
While the Right to Information (RTI) documents obtained by activists from the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) bring out bitter truths about the tragedy being kept alive, documents obtained from the U.S. State Department under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), 1966, reveal more inconvenient truths.
The interests and concerns of U.S. businesses over Mr. Warren Andersen’s extradition appear to be a significant factor in the denial of his extradition by the U.S. government.
For instance, in a letter written to the U.S. State Department review authority Archie M. Bolster (dated July 24, 2003) by probably the U.S. industry (writer’s name not clear), it is explicitly stated that “the request (to extradite Mr. Warren Andersen) should be rejected. No issue has greater potential to destroy U.S. business leaders’ confidence in India than the handling of the Warren Andersen case.”
It also states that the request for extradition was “sheer hypocrisy” and that its “chilling effect on American investment abroad cannot be over-stated”.
Another letter written by Linda Jacobson, Assistant Legal Adviser of the U.S. Law Enforcement and Intelligence Department, to Thomas J. Donohue, president and CEO of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, says, “We are aware of the importance of this issue to the U.S. business community….we have learned a great deal about the concerns of the Union Carbide and the U.S. business community….we have also received and reviewed written documentation from the private sector related to these concerns.”
So is Mr. Andersen liable to be extradited at all? “Well, liable yes. It will be difficult. But there are several instances where Mr. Andersen has made statements that suggest individual responsibility,” says Rajan S. Sharma, Lead Counsel for the plaintiffs in the U.S. against the Union Carbide Corporation. “For instance, he once said at a press conference in the U.S. that had he known the plant was unsafe, he would have shut it down himself,” says Mr. Sharma.
Also, according to Mr. Sharma, on the question of “sabotage by a disgruntled worker”, Mr. Andersen had said that it was his responsibility to ensure that the plant functioned in a way that would not allow any sabotage.
Other documents obtained under the FOIA suggest that the Indian government might not have pursued Andersen’s extradition on a priority basis.
Unclassified documents prepared by the U.S. Consul in Mumbai, dated July 26, 2004, state the Attorney-General for India in 2001 Soli Sorabjee’s advice to the Government of India (GOI) that “efforts should not be made to extradite Mr. Andersen as there was inadequate evidence to link him directly to the cause of the gas leak.”
It further comments that “GOI officials may feel that, for political reasons, they need to be perceived as being concerned about extraditing Mr. Andersen, although this does not currently appear to be a high priority bilateral issue for the GOI”.
On June 7, 2004, when the U.S. government rejected GOI’s request to extradite Mr. Andersen, experts voiced concerns over the decision and article 2(1) of the Indo-U.S. extradition treaty as its basis, which requires the person to be extradited to be charged with an offence for which he could be punishable in the U.S. for more than a year.
Culpable homicide, for which Mr. Andersen was charged in India, was equivalent to manslaughter in the U.S. for which a person could be punished for more than a year (Frontline, October, 2004).
So, where is the case headed? “We are surely making progress. For instance, Union Carbide has changed its arguments. Earlier they said that the case could not be tried in U.S. courts. Now they are ready for trial. They, however, maintain that UCC is not responsible for the actions of its Indian subsidiary,” says Mr. Sharma.
Now that much has been communicated by high officials of the two countries regarding Mr. Andersen’s extradition, interests of the U.S. business community in the matter and India Inc’s more than vocal support to Dow Chemical in its efforts to get itself absolved of the responsibility of cleaning up the Union Carbide factory premises and the area around it, it needs to be seen if the Indian government toughens its stand on Andersen’s extradition.
Will the Indian government succeed in getting Bhopal’s most wanted criminal?