Friday, April 11, 2008


US hands back Afghans for makeshift trials

David Rohde and Tim Golden in Kabul, smh

April 11, 2008

DOZENS of Afghan men held by the United States at Bagram Air Base and Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, are being tried here in secretive Afghan criminal proceedings, based mainly on allegations forwarded by the US military.

The prisoners are being convicted and sentenced to as much as 20 years in jail in trials that typically run between half an hour and an hour, said human rights investigators who have observed them. One early trial was reported to have lasted barely 10 minutes, an investigator said.

Witnesses do not appear in court and cannot be cross-examined. There are no sworn statements of their testimony.

Instead, the trials appear to be based almost entirely on terse summaries of allegations forwarded to Afghan authorities by the US military. Afghan security agents add whatever evidence they can, but the cases generally centre on events that sometimes occurred years ago in war zones that the authorities may now be unable to reach.

"These are no-witness paper trials that deny the defendants a fundamental fair-trial right to challenge the evidence and mount a defence," said Sahr MuhammedAlly, a lawyer for the advocacy group Human Rights First. "So any convictions you get are fundamentally flawed."

The head of Afghanistan's national intelligence agency, Amrullah Saleh, said his investigators did their best to develop their evidence. But he said the Afghan judicial system remained crippled by problems more than six years after the Taliban's fall.

Since 2002 the Bush Administration has pressed dozens of foreign governments to prosecute the Guantanamo prisoners from their countries as a condition of the men's repatriation. But many of those governments - including Britain - have objected, saying the US evidence would not hold up in their courts.

Afghanistan represents perhaps the most notable exception.

Of prisoners who have faced the makeshift court, 65 have been convicted and 17 acquitted, according to a report by Human Rights First.

US officials defended their role in the Afghan trials as a legitimate way to try to contain the threats that some of the more dangerous detainees would pose if they were released outright.

■ The Afghan-born US ambassador to the UN, Zalmay Khalilzad, has signalled that he will run for the presidency of Afghanistan in elections next year.

Mr Khalilzad is a senior figure in the Bush Administration who served as ambassador to Kabul before becoming ambassador to Iraq and then the UN. He holds US citizenship, is married to an American and is a former professor at Columbia University.

The New York Times;Telegraph, London