Our local paper, the Daily Herald, did a story on Paul, Dusty and I. It was front-page worthy and appeared on Saturday, August 25, 2007.
Here's the link:
Here's the text if you don't want to go to the link:
JAG Officers Help Spread the Rule of Law to Afghan Army
When Lt. Col. Robert Church, Capt. Dusty Kawai and Maj. Paul Waldron arrived in Afghanistan last August, the country's military justice system was in its infancy. It has not yet reached maturity, but thanks in part to the three Utah County soldier-lawyers, it is growing.
Church, of Orem, Kawai, of Pleasant Grove, and Waldron, of Springville, are members of the Utah National Guard's 1st Corps Artillery, and during a yearlong deployment to Afghanistan they worked for the Judge Advocate General's Corps, the military's legal wing. As the United States taught the Afghan National Army to fight terrorists and police its borders, the three Utahns helped teach it how to police itself.
The ANA's military justice system was enacted in late 2005, but when Church, Kawai and Waldron arrived in the country a year ago, that system was barely functioning. Western legal concepts were on the books, but were often misunderstood or simply ignored. It was the three JAG officers' jobs to mentor the prosecutors, defense attorneys, judges and legal staff and teach them how to abide by the rule of law.
"There was a lot of resistance down where I was, to me, implementing the new system because the commanders would prefer to simply beat a wrongdoer with a pistol butt and throw them in a (shipping container) for a few days and let them roast in the heat than actually follow through with the military justice system," Waldron said.
Each of the three men was assigned to one of Afghanistan's five military regions, with Church in Kabul, Kawai in Gardez and Waldron in Kandahar. In Gardez, Kawai often sat in on trials and offered advice, while Waldron, whose region was not as well staffed by the ANA, didn't take part in deliberations. Church, stationed in the country's capital, spent much of his time training officers and recruits.
"We spent most of our time just trying to train the Afghan commanders on their new system, how to implement it, get the system going," Waldron said.
Oftentimes, they would be advising the defense attorney, prosecutor and judges on the same trial, making sure everyone played by the book. They didn't have any authority over their Afghan counterparts, but they did have influence. Church called this "mentoring with a big stick."
They had no authority to tell them what to do, Church said, "but they perceive that we do, therefore we wield a lot of influence with the Afghans."
The three feel they made their mark and had their share of success. When they first arrived, the country had conducted only 14 courts martial. In his region alone, Kawai oversaw 32 over the past year.
Perhaps most indicative of the changes that occurred in the military justice system during their tenure in Afghanistan is a greater willingness to go after high-ranking officers. Church took part in the trial of a brigadier general in the Afghan National Army who was accused of raping a soldier. That case succeeded, yielding a conviction of a brigadier general for the first time in the ANA's history.
Unfortunately, that general had a lot of political clout and served less than two months, but Church still feels it was a sign of progress.
"Be that as it may, we convicted a brigadier general," he said.
Waldron said the outcome wasn't always as important as how the judges and lawyers arrived there.
"Rather than getting certain results, our job was to make sure the process was proper," he said.
Of course, they still liked seeing a happy ending. Kawai helped the ANA's legal system convict a colonel to five years for sexually assaulting a soldier. That colonel was also well-connected politically and was considered a hero by many for his service in the country's war against the Soviet Union in the 1980s, but the sentence was handed down, despite a great deal of opposition.
"In this rape case there were soldiers waiting outside the courtroom, and when I came out they ran up to me and said, 'What happened?' " Kawai said. "I told them he got five years, and they just were all on their cell phones."
Another officer whom Kawai helped convict was running a mafia-style protection racket in the town he was in charge of, and was stealing money from his soldiers as well. Kawai said the convictions were empowering for the soldiers who had often seen their commanders act with impunity.
Not everything went as smoothly as they liked. Judges who were used to questioning the defendants themselves had to get used to the idea of letting the prosecutors do it. A prosecutor whom Kawai worked with wanted to continue a trial without witnesses, and Kawai had to emphasize the notion that a defendant has the right to face his accusers in court. And Waldron got into an argument with a judge whom he said didn't grasp the concept of relevant evidence.
"I was so angry I stood up and walked out," Waldron said.
Kawai made enough waves that he got death threats and was given a full security detail. He even avoided an assassination attempt when he spotted an improvised explosive device that had been placed in his vehicle's path on the way out of town one day.
But things are notably better off than when the three lawyers arrived, they say.
"Now that they have achieved success, I think they will be better equipped to achieve that success on their own because the pattern has been set," Church said.
Church is going back to his job as an Orem city prosecutor, Waldron will go back to the law firm Scribner & McCandless, and Kawai is leaving his former firm to be a Utah County public defender. All are happy to be home.
"I'm really looking forward to getting back and trying some cases and just advocating for my clients. I've missed that a lot," Kawai said. "I can't wait to get back into the courtroom."
But the three take pride that the rule of law means a little more in Afghanistan than it did a year ago.
"I saw a lot of progress," Kawai said. "From when we got in the country to when we left the country, there was a general greater acceptance that there are laws on the books and you have to abide by the laws. I really consider that a success story."