A top leader of Jamaat's Islami Chhatra Sangha during the 1971 Liberation War, members of which formed the atrocious al-Badr force, Mir Quasem Ali may not have thought until 2010 that he and other Jamaat leaders would have to stand in the dock for their war-time crimes committed in the name of saving Islam and undivided Pakistan.
Until that year, Quasem and the top ranks of his party had enjoyed impunity and never faced arrest for war crimes – thanks to the reluctance of subsequent governments in initiating the much-expected trials.
After the arrest of three top Jamaat leaders including its chief Motiur Rahman Nizami on June 29, 2010 – only three months after the International Crimes Tribunal was established – it became clear that there was no more respite from facing trials.
So Jamaat began conspiring to foil the trial proceedings – one of the efforts was spending money to appoint international lobbyists – so that the trials and the incumbent government would be questioned by different quarters and the party could deliver a clean image of its leadership to its supporters by blaming the government for bringing false allegations against them.
In 1971, Jamaat publicly opposed the independence of Bangladesh and formed various forces including al-Badr, Peace Committees and Razakar Bahini to collaborate with the Pakistani occupation forces in committing genocide, murder, rape, abduction and torture, arson and looting of the Bangali people.
Quasem was an executive council member of Jamaat and also serving as the treasurer when he was arrested on June 17, 2012. Because of his strong foreign connections, Quasem was tasked with the matter of lobbying.
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During the war, he had been the chief of al-Badr's Chittagong chapter that abducted, tortured and killed freedom fighters and Awami League leaders at various camps in the port city. However, his efforts went in vain.
The war criminal was sentenced to death by the tribunal in 2014 and his sentence was upheld by the apex court in March this year after his counsel had failed to prove his alibi. Quasem's final legal attempt to save his life was rejected on August 30.
During the review petition hearing, his counsel urged the court to give him lenient punishment considering his status and economic contribution. But after the court dismissed his petition, Quasem was nervous about hearing about the judgement but surprisingly did not seek presidential mercy – his last lifeline.
The government in 2013 announced that it had acquired the receipt of Quasem paying $25m to appoint a lobbyist firm – Washington-based Cassidy & Associates – to cast doubt and raise questions about the war crimes trials. Then law minister Shafique Ahmed disclosed the information in parliament in April, 2013, adding that documents related to the dealing were to reach their hands soon.
The attorney general submitted to the Appellate Division the receipt of the $25m deal inked on October 6, 2010 during the appeal hearing. But the court expressed its displeasure as the government was yet to take legal action against the war criminal and his associates involved with the deal.
In its verdict declared on March 8 this year, the Appellate Division said that Quasem had engaged a lobbyist firm on payment of $25m “to influence the government of the United States with a view to postponing the trial process.”
The receipt of payment reads: “Confirmation of receipt of the Amount of Twenty Five Million US Dollars from Mr Mir Kashem Ali for Professional Services to be Provided.”
The defence argued that there was no basis in support of the contention of the attorney general, but the allegation had not been established.
In 2011, Quasem and his brother Mir Masum Ali hired Cassidy & Associates for $310,000 to influence US politicians and government officials against the tribunal proceedings.
Cassidy’s website says the fee paid by Quasem in the first quarter of 2011 was among the largest quarterly fees incurred by any of its 140 clients that year. Only about a dozen clients paid more.
According to information available, two pro-Jamaat organisations based in the USA hired two lobbyist firms in early 2014 to work to get members of the US Congress to condemn the actions of the war crimes tribunal and raise public awareness among the US public. But the amount spent could not be known.
New York-based Organisation for Peace and Justice (OPJ) appointed Cassidy & Associates in April 2014 to “engage members of the US Congress to support a congressional resolution condemning the actions of the ICT [International Crimes Tribunal] and to use best efforts to include anti-ICT legislative language” in the legislative bodies.
The OPJ is run by sympathisers of Jamaat and its mission is to assist the party and its members in Bangladesh.
Cassidy then sub-contracted two other firms named Cloakroom Advisors and Kglobal. Both firms were appointed to carry out the same tasks as Cassidy; but in addition, they would “conduct outreach to the Department of State (South and Central Asia Bureau and International Operations).”
As per the contract, the Organisation for Peace and Justice was supposed to pay Cassidy a total of $50,000 over a period of three months as a lobbying fee.
The second pro-Jamaat organisation that is lobbying against the war crimes trial in the USA is called the Human Rights Development in Bangladesh (HRDB). In March 2014, the HRDB appointed another US lobbyist firm Just Consulting LLC which was later renamed Grieboski Global Strategies.
Grieboski was tasked with reaching out to and influencing the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom, the US Department of State and the US Congress against the war crimes trials.