Tuesday, July 20, 2010

When we said 'not guilty' that didn't mean you're free to go...

In the past I have celebrated the impressive way in which US/NATO occupying forces in Afghanistan are handling the socio-political terrain of so-called "nation-building" in Afghanistan. This progressive integration of justice best known as 'detention-without-charges' and 'trials-without-charges'. Well, 'they' have just added acquittal-without-freedom to their Integrated Justice product line!

The Taliban on the other hand seem to have a much more fluid and less determinist grasp on administration and governance at a local level.

Some might say that in conflict-affected contexts it means an awful lot to have some recourse to policing, justice, and compensation – however loaded with ideology and concessions that assistance might be served.

It's pretty obvious that the manner in which local people are detained and prosecuted by occupying forces is bound to become a focus for the local population and the insurgents.

I was reading a NYT article and it seems that Integrated Justice now uses two really cool systems, one in which prisoners of war are detained without charge and their cases periodically reviewed by American officers; the other in which detainees ‘will be tried in an Afghan court, before an Afghan judge, and defended by an Afghan lawyer’.

What maked this exciting new Integrated Justice product so fabulous is that an acquittal does not mean a person is free – he may still be detained if there is a feeling amongst American military offices that the person poses a security threat. As the NYT articles muses, an Afghan court could acquit a detainee whom the American review board deems a continuing threat.

Fortunately, Capt. Gregory Belanger, director of legal operations for Task Force 435, clears up any confusion:

“Anybody not found guilty can be released, but we have an interest in not releasing people that pose a risk to the people of Afghanistan and to us...I’m not going to say it’s not binding, but if someone is acquitted in state court, they can still be prosecuted in federal court”.

So the US/NATO Integrated Justice System now offers Afghans more options than ever before:

- Afghans can be incarcerated without charge (obviously!);
- These same detainees may be prosecuted for crime(s) that s/he wasn't charged (duh!);
- The trial will be held in a prison (which saves everyone so much time);
- Even if you are acquitted, this is no guarantee of your freedom (because an acquittal may not be binding).

Clears things up for me. What a relief!

Contrast this with the Taliban, who warn you (night letters, etc.) if you are threatening their interests, and kill you if you go to far or persist after being warned. Otherwise, if you have accusations and grievances against other people (civil stuff, whatever), their local officials are available at the village-level to dispense justice using some traditional mumbo-jumbo mechanism (boring!).

It's pretty obvious which justice-provider offers better terms...

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