- - Friday, July 11, 2014

The founding father of Bangladesh, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, was known as the poet of politics. A leader in the country’s bloody struggle for independence from an oppressive Pakistan in 1971, “Mujib,” as he was known, outlasted an occupying Pakistani military force and survived nine brutal months in a Pakistani prison.

Yet only four years after he became prime minister of Bangladesh and was honored with the title “Father of the Nation,” he was assassinated by members of his own military during a coup.

One of those assassins has managed to escape justice all these years by living here in the U.S. He applied for asylum in San Francisco in 1996 and has moved around the country since, spending time in Los Angeles, suburban Chicago and elsewhere. It’s time to send him home to answer for his crime.

His name is Rashed Chowdhury. He was one of 12 young military officers who broke into Bangladesh’s presidential residence on August 15, 1975, and gunned down Mujib, members of his family and staff, including children and pregnant women. Only two of Mujib’s daughters, who were overseas at the time, escaped alive. One of them, Sheikh Hasima, is now the prime minister of Bangladesh.

Chowdhury has eluded justice for too long. He has, in fact, confessed to his role in the assassination while living a life of freedom and comfort here in the U.S. It is time that the U.S. to hand over Chowdhury to Bangladesh.

After the slaughter, Chowdhury and the other officers involved were rewarded with high positions in the new military regime. Perversely, they represented Bangladesh as envoys and defended their actions to foreign dignitaries and the media. One of his co-conspirators was elected to the parliament and even ran for president. The regime instituted an Indemnity Act that guaranteed the killers’ safety for more than two decades until the law was overturned by a democratically elected government in 1996.

Thus exposed, the killers fled. Four didn’t make it out of Bangladesh, were tried and hanged in 2010. One killer died abroad and six are still on the run.

Two of the seven fugitives entered the U.S. on visitor visas: Chowdhury was one of them.  The other, Mohiuddin Ahmed, was handed over to the Bangladesh authorities in 2007 after a U.S. court rejected his plea to live in the U.S. permanently. He was hanged along with the other four in 2010. It’s now time for the U.S. to respond to Bangladesh’s repeated pleas to return Chowdhury.

Several years have passed since the U.S. Board of Immigration Appeals affirmed the initial grant of asylum to Chowdhury and his family. The Department of Homeland Security was ordered to complete his background checks. Because immigration related information is not publicly available, it is difficult to know Chowdhury’s current visa status.

Yet the U.S. has no compelling reason to prevent extradition of Chowdhury to Bangladesh. He has been tried in absentia in Bangladesh and found guilty. He has confessed. Because of his terrorist activities, including assassination, he should be considered ineligible for asylum here. He failed to disclose his criminal past during his asylum process, which disqualifies him from obtaining permanent safe haven in the U.S., according to the law.

The U.S. has every reason to hand him over to Bangladesh. Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.), chairman of the House Sub-Committee on Counterterrorism and Intelligence, understands that Bangladesh is an important strategic partner of the U.S. in the fight against terrorism in Southeast Asia. He has vocally backed the extradition of Chowdhury.

But still the U.S. has failed to do the right thing. Bangladesh has long looked to the U.S. as the world’s leading advocate for human rights and justice. The U.S.’s commitment, enlightened leadership and initiatives have paved the way for bringing notorious criminals to justice.

The U.S. needs to send the message that foreign criminals and terrorists cannot use the land of freedom as their safe haven. It turned over assassin Mohiuddin Ahmed. Now, it’s Chowdhury’s turn.

 Akramul Qader is the immediate past Bangladesh ambassador to the U.S.