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Rights group: Afghan trials unfair

Transferred from US custody, Afghan detainees face unfair trials at home, rights group says
AP News
April 10, 2008
Alisa Tang
A human rights group charged on Thursday that Afghanistan is prosecuting detainees transferred from U.S.-run prisons in arbitrary and unfair trials with little evidence.
Human Rights First lauded the Afghan government's decision to try the detainees, formerly held in the prisons at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba and Bagram, Afghanistan, in a court of law. But the New York-based group said in a new report that the legal proceedings are unfairly based on little more than allegations by American officials.
"Where there is evidence of criminal activity, persons should be tried in proceedings that comport with international fair trial standards," Human Rights First said in its report. "In Afghanistan, the trials of former Bagram and Guantanamo detainees being conducted since October 2007 fall far short of this mark."
In trials that last between 30 minutes and an hour, defendants have been sentenced to prison terms ranging from three to 20 years, it said.
An Afghan official overseeing the cases said he believes the proceedings have been transparent and fair.
More than 250 Afghan prisoners have been transferred from U.S. custody in Guantanamo or the military prison at Bagram to Afghan custody. The prisoners are being held and tried at a new, U.S.-funded block of the Pul-i-Charkhi prison on the outskirts of Kabul.
The detainees are being charged under Afghan law with crimes ranging from treason to destruction of government property.
Human Rights First, which conducted its research in January and February and observed two trials, said that 65 of those detainees have been convicted "in violation of fair trial standards." Seventeen have been acquitted.
The group also examined court documents and interviewed detainees' family members, lawyers, judges and Afghan government officials.
Among the group's findings:
- During the trials, no prosecution witnesses and little or no physical evidence are presented.
- Defense lawyers are not present when a client is interrogated by the prosecution or when intelligence officials collect evidence, so defendants are unable to challenge the evidence or cross-examine witnesses.
- Lawyers are appointed to the case after the investigation is concluded and generally have only five days to review the government's evidence prior to trial.
It said 30 Afghans remain in Guantanamo. More than 600 are being held in Bagram.
"Transfers must be done responsibly," the report said.
Mohammad Ishaq Aleko, head of the independent commission set up by the Afghan Justice Ministry to oversee the detainee transfers, said the commission has studied the cases and monitored the legal proceedings from beginning to end.
"The work of the judges, prosecutors and defense lawyers has been excellent," he said. "So far the trials of these detainees have been fair."
More than 40 detainees have been acquitted and are about to be released soon, he said, noting that the current process was an improvement from prisoners being detained indefinitely, as some have been in U.S. custody.
"These detainees were being held in prison without trial," Aleko said. "At least now the prisoners know how long they are going to stay in jail."
Associated Press Writer Rahim Faiez contributed to this report
2008 The Associated Press
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