Sunday, February 11, 2007

Meetings at MoD (Ministry of Defense)

NOTE: I'll post photos later.

I’ve been at Camp Eggers for the past few days. The down-range ETT (embedded team trainer) JAGs (Paul, Dusty and Scott) and I have come up to Kabul and met with the lawyers who mentor the MoD lawyers. We talked about the issues and problems that are facing the different Corps. Listening to Dusty and Paul talk about the problems they have make me realize that I was truly blessed with being assigned where I was. My SJA and the prosecutors and defense attorneys are all law school graduates. There’s are simply Afghan officers appointed to act as legal officers. Paul’s prosecutor got fired in a storm of politics and intrigue so he’s been having to fight to actually get prosecutors in his corps. Dusty is faced with incredible amounts of corruption in his Corps leadership. I know my ANA have corruption problems they’re just not to the extent that he’s facing.

It was so hard not to gloat at the incredibly good situation I have. OK, I actually had to point out that my Corps is the best and of course I felt a little bit of guilt knowing just how good I have things. But at the same time, it was a real eye opener for me to realize the extent of the problems that are out there. It made me wonder if I haven’t been looking hard enough to see if we have the same problems and I’ve just been oblivious to them. I’ll have to start looking a little harder to see just what’s out there.

One day we met with COMA – the Court of Military Appeals. That was a very productive meeting and at the same time a very frustrating meeting. We had spent the morning talking about how in order for the prosecutors to learn how to better prepare and present a case, they need to be allowed to make mistakes. The judges agreed with this idea. In the past what has happened if COMA has not liked an outcome, they have sent the case back to be retried. Not only is this a violation of the principle of double jeopardy, it has no effect of establishing any form of case law, of which the Afghans have none. Anyway, as we talked about this issue in the morning session, the judges all seemed to realize that if the prosecutor made a mistake and the accused was found not guilty, they needed to uphold the finding of the basic court. Well in the afternoon session we were talking about appeals and the role of the appellate prosecutor. I was sort of not paying attention, (No, I was not sleeping, I was just thinking of something else that involved warm beaches, clear water and blue skies – I’ll be writing about that sometime in the future so stay tuned) when one of the judges made a comment that brought me back to reality.

I gave them a scenario where the prosecutor failed to prove his case and the defendant was found not guilty. The prosecutor, in my example, appealed the case. I then asked the judges what they would do. They were all in agreement that they would send the case back to the basic court with instructions to the prosecutor to fix the problem, retry the case so the defendant could be convicted. You can imagine the stir that caused among the mentors. We thought we had made such great progress in the morning, getting them to agree that they needed to NOT do that very thing and now we were back to where we had been. We tried to explain the problem with this but they said that their law allowed them to do that very thing. As Paul and I started looking for that particular provision – which we never found by the way – they explained that since a crime had been committed, some form of punishment needed to take place. Just as an aside, their law allows them to hear the evidence all over again but at their level. It does not say anything about sending it back to the basic court and prosecutor. When we brought up this point it seemed to fall upon deaf ears. Unfortunately we never did resolve this issue and I’m afraid that it won’t be resolved for some time to come.

Despite this setback it was still a great meeting and we accomplished quite a bit. Their military justice system has no mechanism for allowing a defendant to come in and plead guilty. They have always had a full blown trial when the case could have been resolved with a simple guilty plea. We spent a great deal of time discussing this issue and in the end they agreed that so long as there was no coercion and the defendant was represented by counsel, they could see the benefit of adopting this kind of procedure. They’re going to issue a directive to the courts along with a script and procedural guide drafted by us to all the judges. I’m hoping that before I leave, I’ll start to see guilty pleas take place in my court. That would certainly lighten the case load of all involved and be another big step forward for the ANA.

As for our living accommodations here at Camp Eggers, it left much to be desired. While I did not live in the dungeon again, I live in a room about 18 feet by 7 feet with two sets of bunkbeds. Scott, Dusty, Paul and I all shared a room. Paul got here first so he got one of the bottom bunks. I hate the top bunk so since I was the senior officer in the room, I declared that the other bottom bunk was mine. I made Scott sleep on the top bunk. There was only one small piece of furniture on which to place anything so we basically spread our stuff all over the floor. It looked like a rat’s nest after four days. We had a great time though and got along really well.

I’ve known Dusty for years. Dusty negotiated the public defense contract for his firm with Orem so I’ve worked with him professionally for quite some time. But I never knew of his many talents. The first night he had us rolling with his “gay Mexican” accent. He’s learning to speak Spanish and is actually doing pretty good. Anyway, we were all laughing at his very accurate interpretation of “un maricon”. He then regailed us with his “Japanese/Mexican” accent and his Japanese/Afghan accent. (Dusty is half Japanese.) It was hysterical. Needless to say, we’ve all been speaking Spanish in various accents. Paul and I both speak Spanish having served Spanish speaking missions, but Scott only studied it in school. We’ve all been impressed at how much he remembers and he’s joined in our conversations. It’s been a lot of fun. \

Anyway, it’s been a good few days here at Camp Eggers.

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