Rule of Law and Justice Problems

Re: #HONY (1/2)

Rule of Law and Justice problems:

Afghanistan 2009 – Khan Neshin, Rigg District, Helmand Province – the southernmost Area of Operations (AO) for Marine forces, 60 km from the Pakistan border and widely used Taliban narco-financing route.

Afghan legal code makes the possession and use of narcotics illegal. But far from Kabul, villages organized around tribal systems, have not seen any form of government or outsiders for so long that they ask Marines on in a July 2009 offensive to clear the Taliban presence, “Are you Russian?” The Taliban encourage the villagers to grow poppy (which they then traffic across the border), which the villagers gladly do because poppy grows naturally in the region, and they get paid more than growing food crops. By all local and cultural norms, and with the Taliban as a de facto shadow government, poppy-growing is a way of life. 

A growing frustration exists from the difficulty of capturing Taliban members with accompanying evidence of, e.g., planting IEDs, murder, and other terrorism-associated charges, combined with the inability to have them prosecuted in the Afghan government’s ineffective and corrupt formal judicial system.

Narcotics, being so prevalent, becomes the quickest way to get the “bad guys” – if getting Al Capone on tax evasion is what you got, that’s what you do. You get them not as anti-government “insurgents” on terrorism-charges, but as drug traffikers.

During non-growing season, many villagers also keep a “brick” of unprocessed opium as a piggy bank – with no banking system, a volatile currency, and a barter-economy, they keep it as currency for a rainy day. 

The wife of one detained opium farmer found with a brick complains to the District Governor – who will now feed their family if they take away her husband? And if not opium, what? And what when the Taliban come demanding the opium? Can the Kabul not only protect the villagers but also provide the resources to change the entire local economy from poppy-based to alternate, licit, crops?

Re: #HONY (2/2) The thought is floated for selective detentions – i.e., intelligence provides the identity of Taliban members known to have planted IEDs, etc., and then capture only those members on drug charges, but leave the villagers alone.

But can you have that double standard? How legitimate is a law that is not applied uniformly? Will it only lead to allegations of corruption (and actual corruption)? What do you do, with the Marines frustrations of capturing Taliban members, only to have to release them days later? What do you do to stay vigilant over the possibility that the frustrations will lead to essentially, vigilante justice?

How do you continue to work with different elements of your own battalion staff, some more “intelligence”-driven and tactically focused, than the larger strategic “rule of law” mission?

Pressure to find a solution that accommodates various goals that creates competing interests, priorities, demands, from within, from above, from around … IDEAS are easy. 

Execution, in the real world, with second/third-order effects, with the law of unintended consequences, is difficult.


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