Afghanistan — Development Continues for Afghan Legal System

WASHINGTON, May 27, 2010 — Ser­vice­mem­bers in Afghanistan are work­ing with the country’s inte­ri­or and defense min­istries to pro­vide legal advice and devel­op­ment in the coun­try.

“We’re a lit­tle bit dif­fer­ent than most of your stan­dard mil­i­tary legal offices,” said Army Col. Rick Rousseau, who serves in Afghanistan with the NATO train­ing mission’s staff judge advocate’s office, dur­ing a “DoD Live” blog­gers round­table yes­ter­day.

“While we do the nor­mal func­tions of a legal office, I have three sec­tions in my office that are quite dif­fer­ent from any oth­er,” Rousseau said.

The main role of the judge advocate’s office is to pro­vide legal advice on all issues affect­ing the command’s com­man­ders and staff. The office focus­es on anti­cor­rup­tion efforts in Afghanistan and the legal devel­op­ment of the Afghan army and police.

Afghanistan’s nation­al police fall under the inte­ri­or min­istry, and the judge advocate’s office stood up region­al legal offices to pro­vide legal ser­vices to the agency across the coun­try, Rousseau said.

“That’s real­ly just get­ting start­ed,” he said. The staff also works with embassy offi­cials on their rule-of-law strat­e­gy to make sure the role of police is out­lined clear­ly in the jus­tice con­tin­u­um.

Refer­ring to Army Lt. Gen. William B. Cald­well IV’s “three-legged stool” of cops, courts and cor­rec­tions, Rousseau explained his office’s role. Cald­well is in charge of the NATO train­ing effort in Afghanistan.

“A com­po­nent that we have of that is cops,” he said. “We want to make sure that that three-legged stool stands up right, and regard­ing the cops, that we pro­vide the legal train­ing for them.”

In the last nine months, Rousseau’s office and the nation­al police have worked with the U.S. embassy and marshal’s ser­vice to beef up the judi­cial secu­ri­ty in Afghanistan. Rousseau said the judi­cial secu­ri­ty unit that ini­tial­ly had only 55 mem­bers is going to grow to more than 700, and then to 1,500 next year. The addi­tion­al secu­ri­ty, the colonel said, can ensure that that jus­tice can be done and that judges are not feel­ing threat­ened.

Rousseau’s office also works with the defense min­istry and the Afghan army, advis­ing them on how to devel­op legal offi­cers. In the past year, cour­t­hous­es and deten­tion facil­i­ties have been built for every Afghan army corps. The army also has a tem­po­rary legal school while a per­ma­nent facil­i­ty is built on the grounds of the Afghan Defense Uni­ver­si­ty. This school will be used to train mil­i­tary judges, legal offi­cers, crim­i­nal inves­ti­ga­tors and para­le­gals.

“The [Afghan army] legal sys­tem is doing pret­ty good,” Rousseau said. “They try about 300 to 400 [courts-mar­tial] a year. “There’s hic­cups we have to work through, but we’re feel­ing pret­ty good about the way that the legal system’s com­ing along.”

In addi­tion to pro­vid­ing inter­nal legal ser­vices, the judge advocate’s office has an impor­tant func­tion in the devel­op­ment of the rule of law in Afghanistan, which Rousseau said is one of the biggest chal­lenges.

“Not only do you have those dif­fer­ent U.S. play­ers, but we’ve got 30 or 40 dif­fer­ent coun­tries here with dif­fer­ent agen­das, [as well as non­govern­men­tal orga­ni­za­tions],” he said. “Coor­di­nat­ing all of that is a big chal­lenge in the rule-of-law area.”

Rousseau also shared the sto­ry of 1st Lt. Lut­fal­lah Abri­hi­mi, a legal offi­cer in the Afghan army who sac­ri­ficed his life when Tal­iban insur­gents board­ed a bus he was on to cut off the fin­gers of Afghans who had par­tic­i­pat­ed in the elec­tion. Abri­hi­mi engaged the insur­gents and killed three before they could ter­ror­ize or harm his fel­low coun­try­men, and he lost his life when his ser­vice revolver ran out of ammu­ni­tion.

“When I get asked that ques­tion about the polit­i­cal will and the mind of indi­vid­u­als to do the right thing, I think of the lieu­tenant, because here was a legal offi­cer — some­one that was lit­er­ate, edu­cat­ed, did­n’t have to be in the mil­i­tary,” Rousseau said. “He joined the mil­i­tary, and he chose to do the right thing. He stood up for what was right.” Rousseau said as a result of the efforts from Abri­hi­mi, no one else was injured on that bus, and the insur­gents depart­ed.

“There’s a lot of peo­ple out there doing fan­tas­tic things, putting their lives at stake, mov­ing out to dif­fer­ent places in the coun­try to fur­ther the rule of law,” Rousseau said. “We serve with these indi­vid­ual every day, as we say here in the com­mand, “shohna ba shohna” — shoul­der to shoul­der.”

U.S. Depart­ment of Defense
Office of the Assis­tant Sec­re­tary of Defense (Pub­lic Affairs)