No Comment — August 9, 2010, 12:21 pm

In Afghanistan, A War on Corruption Falters

Experts now often talk about a “new front” in the Afghanistan war: one targeting the corruption that is causing the cost of the war effort to spiral. Although special efforts have been made to address the issue, there is so far little sign of success. Moreover, the latest reports raise doubts about the wisdom of those efforts themselves. Two reports in the last week are particularly noteworthy.

First, the New York Times’s Rod Nordland and Dexter Filkins examine the elite anti-corruption units set up by the American Justice Department, which have provoked the ire of Afghan president Hamid Karzai. The criticisms raised by Afghans are fairly blunt: the units are described as controlled by the Americans and unaccountable to the government in Kabul, and as using harsh techniques like those used in counterterrorism. Karzai responded by appointing a commission to study them:

The commission that Mr. Karzai appointed to investigate the anticorruption agencies held a news conference on Thursday to report its findings. Attorney General Mohammed Ishaq Alko and Mohammed Yassin Usmani, head of the country’s high office of oversight and anticorruption, with other officials, insisted that their investigation was only coincidental to Mr. Saleh’s arrest. They said they investigated conditions at the Qasaba Detention Center in Kabul, where the Major Crimes Task Force has 52 detainees on drug trafficking and corruption charges, and raised concerns about whether conditions there were humanitarian and Islamic. They also looked into the organizations’ investigative practices.

The commission members said they were presenting their findings to Mr. Karzai, who would review whether legislation was needed to better control the two organizations’ activities. A subsequent statement from the president’s office on Thursday night said concerns had been raised about whether the two organizations were in accord with Afghanistan’s Constitution, its “national sovereignty” and humanitarian principles. Mr. Karzai will issue a new decree governing the two organizations, the statement said, and until then the commission will be in charge of overseeing them.

In other words, the Karzai approach is to clip the wings of the independent anti-corruption agencies.

Meanwhile, at NPR’s “All Things Considered,” Carrie Johnson takes a look at the Justice Department’s own efforts to fight corruption in Afghanistan, which seems to have backfired in an embarrassing way:

One story begins in April 2009, on a rainy day in Afghanistan. Contractor Raymond Azar waited in a cafeteria with a co-worker for a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers officer to come discuss a project. Instead, a group of federal agents came. Azar’s lawyer Jim Hibey described what happened next. “So they shackle his feet, they handcuff him at the waist, with a chain around the waist,” Hibey said. “I should say before they do that, they do a full body strip search. Not only is he naked, but when I say full body I mean full body cavity search.”

In other words, Justice Department actors are using techniques identical to those that the CIA describes as “preparatory,” intended to get a subject to break and talk, and they’re using them on a secondary target in a petty contract fraud case, involving ballpark $100,000. The court was not amused. Judge Gerald Bruce Lee handed down Azar’s sentence in a federal courthouse in Virginia on November 6: six months and a fine of $5,000 on charges of conspiracy to commit bribery in connection with an Army construction contract. This slap on the wrist seemed calculated to send a message to the Justice Department: What on earth were you thinking?

Johnson also explores a second case in which Justice Department officials used heavy-handed tactics on an Afghanistani businessman accused of trying to secure corrupt contracts.

Behre represents an Afghan business executive accused of bribing Army officials to win contracts at Bagram. The U.S. military officers involved in the case used the mail to send thousands of dollars in cash back home. The American servicemen all pleaded guilty. Behre’s client and his brother are still fighting with the Justice Department over access to witnesses and evidence in Afghanistan, information they say they need from a place that’s expensive and dangerous to visit.

Behre is battling with the Justice Department now over the ability to depose witnesses in Afghanistan with his client present. In the process, he seems to have trapped the Justice Department in some misleading or contradictory statements to the court. On the one hand, Justice claims, Behre’s client was removed from Afghanistan lawfully, with the knowledge and approval of the Afghan government (a contention that Afghan government figures deny). On the other, Justice opposes Behre’s push for depositions in Kabul by stating that it has no power or authority to detain or hold the Afghan businessman on Afghan soil.

Remarkably absent from Washington’s drive against corruption in Afghanistan is any introspection. In the early years of the Afghanistan conflict, the United States was generous with “walking around money,” making payments to buy the support of local leaders as needed. It also appears to have found a number of soft exceptions to its contracting guidelines. These steps helped frame the environment, and a look in the mirror may be essential to victory on the anticorruption front.

Share
Single Page

More from Scott Horton:

Conversation August 5, 2016, 12:08 pm

Lincoln’s Party

Sidney Blumenthal on the origins of the Republican Party, the fallout from Clinton’s emails, and his new biography of Abraham Lincoln

Conversation March 30, 2016, 3:44 pm

Burn Pits

Joseph Hickman discusses his new book, The Burn Pits, which tells the story of thousands of U.S. soldiers who, after returning from Iraq and Afghanistan, have developed rare cancers and respiratory diseases.

Context, No Comment August 28, 2015, 12:16 pm

Beltway Secrecy

In five easy lessons

Get access to 167 years of
Harper’s for only $45.99

United States Canada

CATEGORIES

THE CURRENT ISSUE

November 2017

Preaching to The Choir

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Monumental Error

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Star Search

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Pushing the Limit

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Bumpy Ride

Bad Dog

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

view Table Content

FEATURED ON HARPERS.ORG

Article
Pushing the Limit·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

In the early Eighties, Andy King, the coach of the Seawolves, a swim club in Danville, California, instructed Debra Denithorne, aged twelve, to do doubles — to practice in the morning and the afternoon. King told Denithorne’s parents that he saw in her the potential to receive a college scholarship, and even to compete in the Olympics. Tall swimmers have an advantage in the water, and by the time Denithorne turned thirteen, she was five foot eight. She dropped soccer and a religious group to spend more time at the pool.

Illustration by Shonagh Rae
Article
Star Search·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

On December 3, 2016, less than a month after Donald Trump was elected president, Amanda Litman sat alone on the porch of a bungalow in Costa Rica, thinking about the future of the Democratic Party. As Hillary Clinton’s director of email marketing, Litman raised $180 million and recruited 500,000 volunteers over the course of the campaign. She had arrived at the Javits Center on Election Night, arms full of cheap beer for the campaign staff, minutes before the pundits on TV announced that Clinton had lost Wisconsin. Later that night, on her cab ride home to Brooklyn, Litman asked the driver to pull over so she could throw up.

Illustration by Taylor Callery
Article
Monumental Error·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

In 1899, the art critic Layton Crippen complained in the New York Times that private donors and committees had been permitted to run amok, erecting all across the city a large number of “painfully ugly monuments.” The very worst statues had been dumped in Central Park. “The sculptures go as far toward spoiling the Park as it is possible to spoil it,” he wrote. Even worse, he lamented, no organization had “power of removal” to correct the damage that was being done.

Illustration by Steve Brodner
Article
Bumpy Ride·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

One sunny winter afternoon in western Michigan, I took a ride with Leon Slater, a slight sixty-four-year-old man with a neatly trimmed white beard and intense eyes behind his spectacles. He wore a faded blue baseball cap, so formed to his head that it seemed he slept with it on. Brickyard Road, the street in front of Slater’s home, was a mess of soupy dirt and water-filled craters. The muffler of his mud-splattered maroon pickup was loose, and exhaust fumes choked the cab. He gripped the wheel with hands leathery not from age but from decades moving earth with big machines for a living. What followed was a tooth-jarring tour of Muskegon County’s rural roads, which looked as though they’d been carpet-bombed.

Photograph by David Emitt Adams
Article
Bad Dog·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Abby was a breech birth but in the thirty-one years since then most everything has been pretty smooth. Sweet kid, not a lot of trouble. None of them were. Jack and Stevie set a good example, and she followed. Top grades, all the way through. Got on well with others but took her share of meanness here and there, so she stayed thoughtful and kind. There were a few curfew or partying things and some boys before she was ready, and there was one time on a school trip to Chicago that she and some other kids got caught smoking crack cocaine, but that was so weird it almost proved the rule. No big hiccups, master’s in ecology, good state job that lets her do half time but keep benefits while Rose is little.

Illustration by Katherine Streeter

Number of cast members of the movie Predator who have run for governor:

3

A Georgia Tech engineer created software that endows unmanned aerial drones with a sense of guilt.

Roy Moore, a 70-year-old lawyer and Republican candidate for the US Senate who once accidentally stabbed himself with a murder weapon while prosecuting a case in an Alabama courtroom, was accused of having sexually assaulted two women, Leigh Corfman and Beverly Young Nelson, while he was an assistant district attorney in his thirties and they were 14 and 16 years old, respectively.

Subscribe to the Weekly Review newsletter. Don’t worry, we won’t sell your email address!

HARPER’S FINEST

Report — From the June 2013 issue

How to Make Your Own AR-15

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

By

"Gun owners have long been the hypochondriacs of American politics. Over the past twenty years, the gun-rights movement has won just about every battle it has fought; states have passed at least a hundred laws loosening gun restrictions since President Obama took office. Yet the National Rifle Association has continued to insist that government confiscation of privately owned firearms is nigh. The NRA’s alarmism helped maintain an active membership, but the strategy was risky: sooner or later, gun guys might have realized that they’d been had. Then came the shootings at a movie theater in Aurora, Colorado, and at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, followed swiftly by the nightmare the NRA had been promising for decades: a dedicated push at every level of government for new gun laws. The gun-rights movement was now that most insufferable of species: a hypochondriac taken suddenly, seriously ill."

Subscribe Today