New York: Terrorist David Headley will spend one year in prison for nearly every five people who died in the deadly 2008 Mumbai massacre. Naturally no one in Mumbai will be satisfied that 35 years is adequate punishment for a man who helped kill 166 men, women and children.
Headley escaped execution and dodged life imprisonment under a plea bargain agreement with the US government. For his cooperation and guilty plea to 12 counts, Headley secured both a promise that he would not face the death penalty and would not be extradited to India or Denmark.
Prosecutors finally pressed for a 30-35 year sentence as Headley aided in the conviction of co-defendant Tahawwur Rana, as well as charges against seven other individuals. While handing down the sentence, the judge noted that Headley "deserved" the death penalty, but that he only opted for the 35-year sentence after a motion by the government.
"Mr Headley is a terrorist," said US District Judge Harry Leinenweber on Thursday while slamming the plea bargain deal. "An easy sentence would be death for such a man."
An American woman whose husband and daughter were killed in the attack said that a 35 year sentence was "an appalling dishonour" to those killed.
"I feel that for the magnitude of the killings that took place in Mumbai, David Headley has no right to live," said Kia Scherr whose husband Alan, 58, and daughter, Naomi, 13, were killed during the attacks on the Oberoi Hotel in Mumbai. They were travelling as part of the 25-member Synchronicity Foundation team exploring yoga and meditation in India.
“This is a moral outrage that is inexcusable," said Scherr.
Survivor Andreina Varagona described in a pre-sentencing filing dining with the Scherrs at the Oberoi Trident Hotel restaurant when gunmen burst in. Bullets tore apart the room as they dove under a table, the girl screaming.
"Two gunmen came running into the packed restaurant, bullets flying. I remember hearing screams and saw all of us sitting there, frozen with fear. All six of us dived down but Naomi was so scared, she just kept screaming. Her dad, Alan, was desperately trying to calm her,” she recounted.
"As I reached up to grab Alan's neck, I suddenly felt the warm spray of blood on my face and in my hair...Naomi's screams had stopped too, and I saw her lying lifeless beside her father,” she said. “They'd both been shot dead."
In 2003, newly married Rabbi Gavriel Holtzberg and his wife, Rivka, had moved from Brooklyn to Mumbai to manage a Chabad house. Their two-year-old son, Moshe was saved by his quick-thinking Indian nanny, but the couple was reportedly brutally tortured before being killed by the terrorists which struck at the Jewish center in Nariman house in Mumbai. The three-day rampage in Mumbai still rattles people in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, the nerve centre of the Lubavitch community and the neighbourhood where Rabbi Holtzberg grew up.
“It’s heartbreaking that David Headley has walked away with a soft sentence,” said a friend of Rabbi Holtzberg, who works in a Chabad house in Brooklyn. He said he felt pained that there was “nothing accidental” in Muslim terrorists killing the only New York rabbi in Mumbai and his wife.
Regardless of Headley’s future intelligence value, there will be little acceptance in India that 35 years is adequate punishment for the Mumbai carnage.
Headley stalked India from 2006 to 2008, performing critical surveillance of numerous targets, including the Taj Mahal and Oberoi hotels, as well as the Chabad House, Leopold Café, and the main rail station in Mumbai, all of which were attacked resulting in massive civilian casualties.
Son of a former Pakistani diplomat and American woman, he was born Daood Gilani but changed his name to David Coleman Headley in 2006 to present himself in India as an American who was neither Muslim nor Pakistani.
Headley’s different coloured eyes (one green, the other blue) are a fitting symbol of the double-agent role he has played for years. He worked as an operative for Pakistani extremists and as an American FBI informant and government witness.
Cutting a plea bargain is not new to Headley. In 1997, Headley was charged in Brooklyn with importing heroin into the US. He provided so much information about his Pakistani suppliers, that he received just a 15-month sentence in jail for cooperating with the US Drug Enforcement Agency.