Subject A, ah, let’s skip the pretense now that’s he’s been convicted. Brigadier General Akhtar Mohammad was convicted today, November 29, 2006 by a panel of three judges of one of two counts of beating a soldier. I can’t tell you how relieved I was.
His trial lasted three days. In an effort to be brief, apparently I’m catching grief from all sides for my “tomes” or “epistles” or “epic” entries, I’ll condense three days into one entry and give you the highlights.
The first day the victim, Turab, testified regarding his assault. The morning of the assault, Akhtar called a formation. Turab and his roommate failed to attend, claiming that the soldier that called them to formation usually lied.
Akhtar went looking for them. He found Turab either in the hallway outside his room – Turab’s version – or in his room – roommates version. He grabbed Turab by the back of the neck and began hitting him. Turab fell to the ground where he was kicked. Akhtar then made him march outside where he made him lie down in the dirt/gravel.
Akhtar then directed the Sergeant Major to have Turab “low crawl” through the gravel as punishment for being late. When Akhtar defended this punishment as being lawful under the non-judicial punishment (NJP) code, the judge held up his version of the code and asked him where in the code it was listed as a legal punishment. Of course he couldn’t and had to sit down and shut up.
After the low crawl, it was pretty unanimous that Turab was standing outside the classroom where everyone was supposed to be with his hands on his hips in a disrespectful, defiant position and attitude. Turab then testified that Akhtar then hit him on the left side of his jaw and that he fell and hit the door frame. He then fell to the ground and passed out. Akhtar, in his infinite mercy, told someone to take him to the hospital where the doctor kept him for 5 days.
The other assault case took place last year at Akhtar’s last command. He was the commander at Darulaman but was relieved from duty for all the abuse he inflicted on his soldiers. I knew that it was reported that he raped his soldiers but I was talking with the US ETT, a Colonel, who spoke with the new commander there. The new commander does not like Akhtar and is embarrassed by him. He said that Akhtar used rape as a form of punishment and intimidation. Nice guy, huh? Unfortunately none of his rape victims would come forward and testify. They were scared to testify as well as being ashamed to admit to something like that. I was so hoping someone would be willing to testify. Oh well.
But I failed to tell you of the details of the other assault. The kid initially reported that he was beaten so severely by Akhtar that he lost his kidney. There was some medical evidence that lent support to his claim. However, the prosecutor failed to call the doctor, and the victim recanted and said that it was a kidney stone and not the beating that caused him the pain. There were other reasons why he was acquitted on this count but I won’t bore you with the details.
Throughout the whole trial I was amazed, but not really at how these soldiers were wiling to lie. During the initial investigation they wrote witness statements. Those that initially said they saw Akhtar “beat” Turab later changed their testimony. They either said that all they saw was a shove or that they didn’t really see the beating. The ANA Sergeant Major initially wrote that he saw Akhtar beat Turab but in court said that he only saw Akhtar shove Turab. When questioned about the discrepancy, he said that a shove was a beating. It was pretty weak.
So let me tell you about the speculation as to why the SGM changed his story. Last week in the chow hall, he asked a soldier to get a guest a cup of tea. The soldier threw the cup at the SGM. This of course erupted into a shouting match. Akhtar’s support, the Corps G2 (Intelligence officer) allegedly said that he was going to report this to the Corp Commander for discipline and that he was going to recommend that the SGM be put into pre-trial confinement. This matter was not a Corps matter but should have been handled at the Brigade level. We all think that the G2 was “telling” the SGM that if he testified against Akhtar he would be in a lot of trouble. Well the message got through as the SGM changed his testimony.
The defense brought in a medic to contradict the doctor’s findings. He attempted to testify that there was nothing wrong with Turab and that he should not have been in the hospital. He didn’t get very far in his testimony when the chief judge shut him down. He asked him what his training was. “Medic” was the response. “How much medical training do you have?” “Two weeks.” “Get out of this courtroom.” “You are in no position to refute the findings of a doctor who has been to medical school.” The medic was literally kicked out of court. It was beautiful. The look of shock on Akhtar’s face was even better.
So let me tell you about the speculation behind that testimony. The medic lost his pistol in the past several weeks. It is rumored that the G2, once again, the devil’s angel himself, told the medic that if he would come in and refute what the doctor had to say, the lost pistol investigation would go well for him.
The corps investigators that were initially assigned to investigate this case testified that they did not see any marks or scars on Turab and that he was not injured. The judges jumped on them as each one of them put in their written report that Turab had been beaten and had marks on his face to support the claim.
Let’s see, who else changed their testimony? Hmm….like I said, just about every witness. Fortunately there were a few who stuck to their stories; Turab, his roommate and one other. And while they had a few discrepancies in their stories, they were consistent on the facts. The doctor too ended up sticking with his original statement.
If you don’t think witness intimidation is alive and well here, then I didn’t do a very good job of telling this story.
Of course there were painful moments watching the prosecutor struggle. When one witness completely denied observing a beating, the judge asked him if he’d interviewed the witness. I “knew” the answer would be yes and was surprised when the answer was “no.” Several of the witnesses were supposed to have seen Akhtar beat the “kidney kid” but it turned out that they only heard about it. Can anyone say “hearsay?” Of course the judge excluded their testimony.
From an academic point of view it was incredibly interesting. For the first time, the defense attorney was arguing procedural violations committed by the prosecutor…and the judges were listening and engaging the prosecutor in debate.
For example…the ANA military justice code says that the defense attorney and accused must be present at all witness interrogations. There were a couple of times when the defense counsel was not around and the prosecutor interviewed the witnesses. He tried to get those statements excluded. Of course Akhtar was not present for any of the witness interrogations. I mean, who was going to let him out of pre-trial confinement to interview witnesses? Not any sane person.
Well there’s a story there as well. The judge, who is a “sane” person as well as the JAG of the ANA army both feel that you can let the accused out of pre-trial confinement to go and interview witnesses. They explained to me as if I were a small child. You simply do not let the accused have a weapon, you have 3-4 armed guards to guard him and everything will be alright. They obviously have not watched enough American TV to know that bad guys have friends who will break them out of jail at a moments notice.
Well fortunately for the prosecution, the judges did not really do anything about the procedural violations. They engaged in animated discussions with the defense attorney and Akhtar but in the end ignored their arguments.
The first day of trial Akhtar sat in his defense box looking so smug and arrogant. When the witnesses would testify that he beat Turab, he would get the wounded look of “who me?”, of someone who would never do, much less think of doing something so heinous as strike another human being. It was pretty sickening. By today, however, that smug look was gone and you could actually see the fear start to creep into his eyes. Then when he was found guilty and sentenced, well if looks could kill, we’d all be dead.
Well in the end justice prevailed. There were times during this case that I was afraid that the prosecutor would buckle. He never did. He is a new hero. He stuck to his guns and did his job. Despite his weaknesses and flaws in the case, the “right” outcome was reached.
The chief judge told me after the trial that this was an historic moment. Never in the 5 year history of the ANA has a Brigadier General ever been convicted at a court martial. I am now officially a part of ANA military justice history.
“Um, that’s Robert J. for the record.”