Last week, Acting Attorney General Jeffrey A. Rosen said that the United States is ready to take custody of Omar Sheikh and bring him to this country for prosecution of the 2002 murder of Daniel Pearl, a reporter for the Wall Street Journal.
Rosen’s announcement came after a Pakistani appeals court ordered the release of Sheikh and three other men charged with kidnapping and murdering Pearl. Sheikh is a key suspect in that crime.
On Dec. 24, the Sindh High Court in Karachi ordered Sheikh’s release from detention. The order releasing Sindh from custody followed a controversial judgment by the same court in April of last year. Sheikh’s conviction for kidnapping was upheld but his conviction for murder was reversed.
The kidnapping of Daniel Pearl in 2002 and his execution by beheading made international news. Pearl was 38 at the time of his death. He was married to Mariane Pearl, who was pregnant at the time of his kidnapping. Pearl did not live to see the birth of his son, Adam Daniel Pearl.
Daniel Pearl was a star investigative reporter for The Wall Street Journal. Pearl was the newspaper’s South Asia bureau chief. He was kidnapped in Karachi, Pakistan’s capital, while pursuing a story about links between Richard Reid, the notorious “shoe bomber,” and al-Qaida.
It is unmistakably clear that he suffered his fate because of his Jewish heritage. In March 2007, in a hearing at Guantanamo Bay, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, al-Qaida’s propaganda chief, confessed to beheading Pearl. It has been widely reported that Omar Sheikh engineered Pearl’s kidnapping and delivered Pearl to Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and other al-Qaida members.
In February 2002, a video was released on the internet that showed the last 3 minutes and 36 seconds of Pearl’s life, and later displayed his mutilated corpse. In the video, Pearl said:
“My name is Daniel Pearl. I’m a Jewish American from Encino, California. I come from, uh, on my father’s side the family is Zionist. My father’s Jewish. My mother’s Jewish. I’m Jewish. My family follows Judaism. We’ve made numerous visits to Israel.”
Last week, former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, who was the U.S. attorney for New Jersey when Pearl was kidnapped, called for Pakistan to extradite Sheikh to the United States, in an opinion article published by The Wall Street Journal.
Christie noted that Sheikh “was indicted in March 2002 by a New Jersey grand jury for the kidnapping of Pearl, resulting in his murder. The indictment is still viable and it is a case for which the U.S. can seek the death penalty. In announcing the indictment, Attorney General John Ashcroft also announced an indictment charging Mr. Sheikh with the kidnapping of an American tourist in India.”
Christie wrote that the United States and Pakistan “don’t have a clear, formal extradition treaty. Attorneys from my former office asked the Justice Department to notify Pakistan officially that the U.S. would like Mr. Sheikh extradited if he is ever released. No formal request has ever been made. That is an outrage.”
The successful extradition of Omar Sheikh to the United States to stand trial for the murder of Daniel Pearl would be a complicated process. Generally, extradition between foreign nations is governed by treaties. There is no extradition treaty between the United States and Pakistan. Extradition is both a legal and diplomatic process.
As the Brookings Institute stated in an online report in October, the Trump administration has had an up-and-down relationship with Pakistan over the last four years.
U.S.-Pakistani relations “were decidedly strained for the first two years of the administration and, since 2019, a far more positive relationship, marked by cooperation on the Afghan peace process and attempts, with limited success, to boost the relationship on other fronts.”
Relations between the U.S. and Pakistan will undoubtedly remain challenging for the Biden administration. Given that there is no formal extradition treaty between Pakistan and the United States, obtaining Sheikh’s extradition will only result from sustained efforts by the next secretary of state, Antony Blinken, after he has been confirmed by the Senate.
Though it will not be easy to accomplish, the Biden administration should pursue Sheikh’s extradition. Daniel Pearl’s unanswered murder is a gaping wound on the body of civilized society. Such wounds do not heal without a full measure of justice.
Omar Sheikh should answer for his role in the savage execution of Daniel Pearl. Though he was convicted and imprisoned for Pearl’s kidnapping, he has thus far escaped responsibility for his role in Pearl’s murder. It is never too late to do the right thing.
A version of the editorial appeared in the Jan. 7 edition of the Jewish Herald Voice in Houston and is reprinted with permission.