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Musharraf finally features among convicted military rulers in world

December 19, 2019

LAHORE: As former Pakistani President and Army Chief, Gen Pervez Musharraf, made history Tuesday by becoming the country’s first military boss to be handed a death penalty (in absentia) with treason, he now finally features among various world military leaders, monarchs and civilian rulers, who have till date been punished by their respective courts for various reasons.

So, while it might be a long time before the decision is actually upheld by superior courts and implemented, the “Jang Group and Geo Television Network” undertook an exclusive research to see how the long arm of law has till date clutched numerous global military leaders for a wide range of culpable sins.

However, very rarely have military rulers around the world been held accountable for a crime as serious as treason.

By the way, on July 25, 2019, Sudan’s former Army chief, Gen Hashim Abdel Muttalib Ahmed, was among senior officers arrested in a coup plot.

The “Al-Jazeera” had reported: “The military council, which took over the country after overthrowing longtime leader, Omar al-Bashir, in April, said it arrested at least 16 active and retired military officers over an attempted coup on July 11. Ahmed was appointed chief of staff just days after Bashir’s removal following months of street protests against the president’s 30-year rule.”

In some instances, despite enjoying the best possible security cover, Army Chiefs are unsafe at their homes even.

For example, on July 23, 2019, the Ethiopian Army’s chief of staff was shot dead inside his home by his own bodyguard, said the country’s prime minister - who linked the assassination to a thwarted coup attempt.

Military leader, Seare Mekonnen, was killed at his residence in Ethiopian capital of Addis Ababa, along with a retired army general visiting him at the time. Mekonnen’s bodyguard was arrested over the deaths, British newspaper “The Independent” had reported.

Research shows that Marshal Philippe Petain (1856-1951), the former Commander-in-Chief of the French Army and country’s ruler many times, was the first-ever military leader in the world who was held for treason in July-August 1945.

Petain’s actions during World War II had resulted in his conviction and death sentence for treason, which was commuted later to life imprisonment by French President Gen Charles de Gaulle. He was convicted and sentenced him to death, but due to his advanced age, the court had asked that the sentence should not be carried out.

Charles de Gaulle had thus commuted the sentence to life imprisonment due to Petain’s age and his military contributions in World War I.

After his conviction, the court did strip Petain of all military ranks and honours, but he was allowed to keep the honorary title of Marshal of France. Petain, already in his nineties during his trial, had suffered from physical and mental deterioration during his imprisonment to the point of requiring round-the-clock nursing care.

In August 2013, the former head of Turkey’s armed forces, Gen Ilker Basbug, was sentenced to life in prison for an alleged conspiracy against the country’s Islamist-rooted government.

The Turkish court had ruled he was part of a terrorist conspiracy called “Ergenekon” that had sought to overthrow the government. Many of the 275 defendants on trial, including generals, journalists and politicians, were also convicted of involvement in the plot and were sentenced to years and even decades in jail.

However, many donning the Army uniform around the globe have been taken to task on a diverse range of crimes since the controversial Nuremberg Trials of 1945-46, when at least half a dozen prominent members of the Nazi Germany’s defence leadership were prosecuted on numerous charges, including the Holocaust or the genocide of six million Jews during World War II.

Apart from the convictions of Nazi Germany’s key military personnel nearly seven decades ago, nearly a dozen more prominent global military leaders have since been convicted and jailed for various crimes, but none was actually held guilty in treason or terrorism charges.

These include four former Argentinean Army Chiefs and a Navy Commander-in-Chief of the country. They were convicted for their criminal role during the “Dirty War”, which was a period of state-sponsored violence, torture and assassinations in this South American nation between the 1970s and 1983. Around 30,000 Argentineans were either killed during the “Dirty War” or had disappeared mysteriously.

Gen Roberto Viola, former Argentinean Army Chief-turned-President, was arrested for the human rights violations. He was consequently sentenced for 17 years, though was pardoned by the former Argentinean Carlos Menem in 1990 along with all other convicted members of successive military regimes.

Gen Leopoldo Galtieri, former Argentinean Commander-in-Chief and President, was arrested in 1983 and charged with human rights violations during the “Dirty War” and with the mismanagement of the Falklands War. He was sentenced to 12 years prison in 1986 and stripped of his rank in 1989. He too was among the recipients of the Presidential pardon.

Gen Rafael Jorge Videla (former Argentinean Commander-in-Chief and President was convicted of forced disappearance during the “Dirty War” and for stealing/abducting many babies born during the captivity of their mothers at the illegal detention centres. He was sentenced to life imprisonment and was discharged from the military in 1985. Videla was also pardoned by President Carlos Menem, but not before he had spent five years behind the bars.

Former Argentinean Army Chief, Cristino Nicolaides, was sentenced for 25 years in 2007 for torture and forced disappearance during the “Dirty War”.

Emilio Eduardo Massera, former Commander-in-Chief of Argentinean Navy, was tried for human rights violations and sentenced to life imprisonment in 1983.

The list of convicted military bosses also includes:

Lt-Gen (retd) Hussain Muhammad Ershad, a Bangladeshi Army Chief-turned-President, was convicted in the Janata Tower Case. Though he was arrested in 1990, but was convicted 11 years after his original arrest. He was released in January 1997. Ershad had publicly apologised in 2009 for all wrong doings of the past and had sought forgiveness from the masses.

Sarath Fonseka, a former Sri Lankan Army Chief, was arrested on February 8, 2010 and court-martialed for committing military offences. He had played an instrumental role in ending the 26-year long Sri Lankan Civil War in 2009, defeating the militant Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam in the process. He later had a public falling out with President Mahinda Rajapaksa and had unsuccessfully challenged Rajapaksa in the 2010 presidential election.

Sarath Fonseka had remained Commander of the Army from December 2005 to July 2009. After he was found guilty in a Court Martial, Fonseka was stripped of all his Military ranks on August 14, 2010 on orders of President Rajapaksa.

Fonseka had led troops to victory over the separatist Tamil Tiger rebels in 2009, but then fell out with Rajapaksa over who deserved the credit.

The decorated general was publicly humiliated and stripped of his rank, pension and medals collected in a 40-year career. He spent two years in jail and lost the right to contest elections for seven years.

However on March 23, 2015, as “The Guardian” had reported, the-then Sri Lankan government had conferred the highest military rank of field marshal on retired army chief Sarath Fonseka, who had been jailed for alleged treason by the previous regime.

The-then President Maithripala Sirisena had awarded Fonseka the title at a state ceremony in the capital and said he was unjustly treated by the previous government.

Gen Manuel Noriega, Panama’s military ruler between 1983 and 1989, was removed from power and detained as a prisoner of war by the invading US Army. After being flown to the United States, Noriega was tried on eight counts of drug trafficking, racketeering and money laundering in April 1992.

On September 16, 1992, Gen Noriega was sentenced to 40 years in prison (later reduced to 30 years). Noriega’s US prison sentence had ended in September 2007, following the outcome of extradition requests by both Panama and France, for convictions in absentia on charges of murder and money laundering.

France was granted its extradition request in April 2010 and Noriega was found guilty by a French court. He was sentenced to seven years in jail in July 2010.

In October 2008, former Yugoslavian Army Chief Momcilo Perisic was tried at a United Nations tribunal at The Hague (Holland) for the war crimes committed by him during the Balkan conflicts of the 1990s.

He was also charged with aiding and abetting the planning the crimes of extermination, murder and persecutions in Srebrenica, where thousands of Muslim men and boys were killed in 1995. On September 6, 2011, Perisic was sentenced for 27 years. However, on February 28, 2013, the Appeal Chamber had acquitted him of all charges.

Rasim Delic, former Bosnian Army Chief, was sentenced to a three-year imprisonment in 2009 on murder, rape and torture charges at a UN War Crimes Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia.

Rasim Delic was the Commander of the Army of Bosnia and Herzegovina from June 1993 to September 2000. In May 2009, Rasim Delic was granted a provisional release pending the hearing of his appeal. He died in April 2010 after just one hearing of the appeal.

A few years ago, Spain had asked South Africa to extradite Faustin Nyamwasa, a former Rwandan Army Chief, who was wanted on charges of genocide in his country and the murder of four Spaniards in Rwanda in the 1990s. Nyamwasa was charged with genocide and crimes against humanity during the 1994 genocide in Rwanda in which 0.8 million people were killed.

It is noteworthy that most of these afore-mentioned Army Chiefs had even gone to become their country's Presidents, both through power and ballot.