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     Volume 8 Issue 78 | July 17, 2009 |

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A New Force

Nader Rahman

The possible formation of a new counter terrorism force in Bangladesh raises some interesting questions. But more importantly in light of recent news that the former Vice President of the United States suppressed knowledge of their own counter terrorism unit from Congress and the public, Bangladesh's government will have to be open and transparent about its formation and its activities. This proposed new force could possibly fill a very important gap in Bangladesh's own mini war on terror, but it will have to tread carefully, acknowledging and working within the purview of the law. The last so-called 'special' force created in Bangladesh has yet to truly prove itself and its activities have often been questioned as unlawful and unethical. If the new force is to function properly then it will have to keep its nose clean and realise that upholding the law is just as important as enforcing it.

The press in the United States has gone into a tizzy after uncovering a link between Dick Cheney and a secret counter terrorism force formed and controlled by the CIA. The New York Times broke the story on July 12 after they found what they believed to be conclusive evidence that Cheney hid the programme from Congress. In their story they wrote, "The Central Intelligence Agency withheld information about a secret counter terrorism programme from Congress for eight years on direct orders from former Vice President Dick Cheney, the agency's director, Leon E. Panetta, has told the Senate and House intelligence committees." Now while Cheney's secrecy with regard to government matters is well documented this deception takes matters to a different level. This is the sort of behaviour the current government should stay clear of, while matters of National Security have to be properly classified, there should be no secrecy over the formation and functions of the newly proposed force. The problem in the US was in fact twofold, the watertight secrecy that surrounded the counter terrorism force and for that matter the National Security Agency's domestic surveillance programme led to more problems than solutions. Federal Agents were fed dribs and drabs of information to follow up on, while the assorted bureaucracy and secrecy kept more information from them than it allowed through.

When the Daily Star reported that the police headquarters sent a proposal to the Prime Minister's office to create a new unit to counter terrorism and combat militancy, initially it may have been viewed with some suspicion, but on closer scrutiny the proposal seemed pragmatic. Sources close to the Daily Star said the new unit which may be called the National Police Bureau of Counter Terrorism, will be trained in information technology (IT), cyber crime and modern banking to protect the country from terrorist strikes, cyber-based attack and high-tech crimes. Aside from expertise in the digital side of crime, their activities are also rumoured to include counter intelligence, stopping terror financing, running continuous anti-militancy campaign, terrorist tracking and maintaining a central database. The Daily Star added, "To root out militancy, the bureau will work taking into consideration all elements of the criminal justice administration system. The proposed police unit pledged in its proposal to work without minimum violation of human rights and other basic rights enshrined in the constitution."

When it comes to Special Forces in Bangladesh, the ubiquitous one being RAB, people tend not to talk of upholding the law. The common logic to their activities is that they get the job done and that's what's most important, but to the average citizen, their activities have often been viewed as outside the purview of the law. Whether the accusations are true or not one will never know till a full fledged inquiry is held, but till then a cloud of doubt hangs over many peoples minds as to the legality of RAB's activities, the innumerable 'encounter' deaths will not help their case. This is where a new force which will work within the criminal justice system as well as uphold the spirit of the constitution could be just what the doctor ordered. If the average citizen sees the new force working within the purview of the law and not taking it into its own hands then they could very well accept it with open arms, rather than view it with suspicion. If it manages to keep the people on its side and work with the law, then the newly proposed counter terrorism team could prove to be quite successful.

While there is no real coordinated counter terrorism programme in Bangladesh, this new force would be formed at a critical time in Bangladesh. The last few years has seen a concerted rise in terrorist activities and whether the government chooses to accept it or not, terrorism has become an issue of national importance. The previous BNP led government did not see terrorism as a major problem, one feels they viewed it as more of an irritant than anything else. Then when things got out of control they decided to go after them. The caretaker government took an ad hoc approach to the situation, essentially letting things go with the flow. But now the Awami League led government could be the first administration who really took the issue of terrorism by the horns. This proposed counter terrorism unit could be the jewel in their crown and if used properly with a coordinated national counter terrorism programme, then they could possibly go a long way in disbanding the numerous terrorist organisations that reside within the country.

The Daily Star report states the core values of the proposed police unit include an unwavering obedience to the constitution, respect for the dignity of people, accountability to the laws, fairness and institutional integrity and leadership. If these really are their core values they will have to live up to them to be successful. As a society we value the rule of law and we often protect it with our lives, we ask is that they do the same. Numerous acts of terrorism have taken many lives in our country, but if we break the law trying to find the perpetrators, where do we draw the line after that?

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