3 Americans Sentenced for Afghan Prison Torture

Before discussing the trial and sentence of the three Americans convicted of running a private jail in Afghanistan and torturing prisoners, I'd like to recognize the dedicated work of New York defense lawyer, Bob Fogelnest, a good friend of mine. I wrote about him in April when he started a weblog Mullah Bob, about his journey to Afghanistan to mentor and supervise six Afghan criminal defense lawyers and participate in training programs designed to help improve the quality of justice and bring the Rule of Law to war-torn Afghanistan. This was supposed to be a two month venture, which he did without pay, receiving only expenses.

Bob ended up defending one of the three Americans charged with torturing Afghan prisoners. The men were found guilty and yesterday the Judge sentenced two of them to ten years in prison and one to eight years. Bob's client was Edward Carbarallo, a New York Journalist invited to Afghanistan to make a documentary on America's war on terror.

The men were arrested July 5 after Afghan security forces raided a house in downtown Kabul and discovered eight Afghans who said they had been tortured as part of the Americans' freelance hunt for terrorists. Wednesday's proceedings were the most orderly yet in a trial mired by chaotic procedures, dismal translation and constant outbursts from Idema. Scant evidence was produced, and there was little cross-examination.

The Americans had faced up to 20 years in jail on charges of kidnapping, torture, theft and illegal entry into Afghanistan. In announcing his verdict, Bakhtyari did not outline precisely what charges the men were found guilty of. The defense drew heavily on video shot by Caraballo, a journalist who says he was making a documentary on America's war on terrorism.

Video shown in court shows the group being greeted at Kabul Airport by the airport director and the city police chief - evidence the defense said showed that they did not come to Afghanistan illegally but instead had official support for their mission. The three said their entry was arranged personally by Afghanistan's ambassador to India, a senior member of the Northern Alliance who has known Idema for several years, although they acknowledged not having official visas.

"It's ridiculous to claim they entered illegally under these circumstances," defense lawyer Robert Fogelnest said. Fogelnest also argued that the Afghan legal system was so badly devastated by more than two decades of war that it wasn't fit to carry out the trial. This entire proceeding "doesn't meet international standards and should be halted," he said, but was quickly cut off by Bakhtyari, who insisted he stick to discussing the charges against his clients. "Come to the point, if you have any arguments," the judge said.

Kudos to Bob for trying to bring some fairness to Afghanistan's justice system and for zealously defending his client under the most trying conditions. He's a great writer and I won't be surprised if he turns this experience into a best seller when he returns home to New York.

Additional news articles on the trial and the case are here (with pictures of the defendants) here and here.

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