Today I had the opportunity to enter “enemy territory”, so to speak. I was invited by the legal officer of 2nd Brigade to come and teach about military justice. As you may recall, this is the brigade where Subject A is from. For those wanting an update, the case has been investigated and the prosecutor will file the case with the court in the next couple of days. He was able to find a victim willing to testify against him from his previous command. The victim is the one who lost a kidney due to the severity of the beating he received from Subject A. Once the case is filed with the court, I’m hoping that the court-martial will take place quickly. I want to get this one over and done with.
So as you can imagine, when I showed up I was met with mixed emotions. I could tell from the looks on some of the faces who the Subject A supporters were. I had braced myself for a barrage of questions regarding him and why we were prosecuting him. That may come during Part II of my presentation. Today I just talked about Non-Judicial Punishment. This is the lowest level of punishment commanders can impose without having to resort to the military courts.
For those of you who are familiar with my style of teaching, I teach several concepts then go back and ask questions about what we just learned. I explained this to these guys before we got started but I could tell from the blank stares that they didn’t understand.
Realize that I have the best interpreter on post and I’m not just saying that. Wais was born here in Kabul but immigrated to the States when he was 16. He’s 40 now. So not only does he speak the language but he speaks “American” as we like to say. He understands our expressions and is able to translate them into Dari. So I knew it wasn’t a problem with the translation but knew that they were not getting the concept of me asking them questions.
Sure enough, after I asked my first question, I was met with blank stares. Then when I tried to get an answer to a question from the youngest of the enlisted soldiers, I got the proverbial “deer in the headlight” look. I tried joking with them, smiling, etc., but I could not crack that stony silence.
After a few questions that were answered by the instructor, the Legal Officer finally caught on and started answering them. I didn’t want him answering the questions as I knew that he knew the answers. I was hoping to engage the officers, NCO’s and soldiers in a thoughtful discussion. I don’t’ know if they were capable of thoughtful discussion.
After we talked about all the possible punishments available at NJP I asked if anyone heard me say that it was legal to beat a soldier as an NJP punishment. I got a few “ne’s” – “ne” meaning “no.” I then really hit the point home that it may have been OK at one time, it was no longer lawful.
That lit the fire. The one guy who I knew for sure was a Subject A support and who, by the way, looked like someone who would beat his soldiers, raised his hand and said that we had 400 years of military history where we learned not to beat our soldiers. They didn’t have that. I didn’t bother to correct him that we didn’t have quite 400 years of military history and that beatings actually took place within recent memory, but not saying any of that I told him that I realized that change was hard but it was time to change. I told him that if the leaders of his country and military wanted officers to be able to beat their soldiers they would have left it in their code and since they didn’t, it was behavior that could no longer be tolerated.
He then said that he watches American TV and sees men fight all the time but they don’t get prosecuted. Wais was one step ahead of me. He later told me that the guy was talking about “ultimate fighting.” Now there’s quality television. On his own, Wais explained that these guys were fighting for sport, that they were getting paid and that they were under contract. He further explained that this was not a one-sided beating like officers would do to their soldiers. He put this guy in his place as he immediately shut up. It helped that several other officers also told him to be quiet and not ask stupid questions.
Speaking of stupid questions…I guess they say that the only stupid question is the one not asked….or is the only dumb questions is the one not asked. Anyway, of course I got the questions that I could not help them with – “Why am I only getting paid as a Captain and not a Major?” Of course that’s a good question, but it’s not a legal question, it’s a personnel question. I got the question of why regulations dealing with officer promotions were not being published. Hmmm. No clue. “I’ll get back to you on that one” was about all I could think of saying.
Overall though, it was a good experience. I’ve talked with groups of soldiers before but never actually conducted training. I learned a lot, mostly that it takes twice as long to teach a simple concept. One, I have to wait for the translation and two, I have to speak in much simpler terms. I don’t think the Afghans are unintelligent, I just think it’s a different style of learning that they’re used to. I’m told it’s mostly lecture and taking notes. Not a lot of interaction.
I’ve got several more classes that I get to teach so I’ll look forward to see if they turn out any differently.