Military stories from past to present, both wars.

A feel good story that the press won’t pick up…

September 24th, 2008 Posted in The SandGram v1.0

I think that victory over here can be measured by small battles as we pursue to improve the lives of the Afghan’s. If you step back and look at how business has been done here, it’s an overwhelming feeling as you are fighting hundreds of years of instilled behavior that is totally foreign to what we believe to be right and wrong in a modern western society. They base a lot of their laws on tribal traditions, a bit on the Koran and “this is how it’s always been done” which brings me to this next story.

A good friend of mine who works at one of the PRT’s (provincial reconstruction teams) emailed me asking for help. Paul is from New Zealand and runs a Police course on his base for the Afghan’s, plus he mentors for some of the folks in town. In July, a case was presented to him about a young girl named Amena who was in a local prison near his base, a men’s prison actually, and living in absolutely horrible conditions. This really struck a cord in my heart, as a father to three girls; I began to digest the summary of what this 14 year old girl was going through. Paul also has two girls, one about the same age as Amena and this become his mission in life to free her.

See, Amena’s father Hassan, decided that she would marry her 45 year old cousin Mohammad Ali, a man who had spent the last 25 years in jail. Arranged marriages, while technically illegal in the Afghan system are still very much alive and well here and in most third world countries. Dwarfism is also a part of life here since so much local blood has intermingled among the cousins in a village. The Afghan’s are tribal and as such, stay within their own communities.

I don’t know why her father was forcing her into a marriage with Mohammad Ali, but she didn’t love him and refused to participate in the wedding. Someone sent a message to the local police about the situation and they dispatched an officer to arrest Hassan the father on charges of making an arranged marriage. He agreed not to force her into marriage and then Amena was ordered by her mother, to write a letter withdrawing her petition against her father so that he wouldn’t go to jail.

This worked for a little bit as Hassan the father left their village to communicate with Allah about his situation. Before he left though, he went to Mullah Tawasuli and asked him to complete the marriage of his daughter and cousin which was done making Amena a new young bride. Apparently, you don’t have to be present to get married, as Amena found out, not knowing what her father had done. Legally though, you have to have two witnesses at your marriage, so this would be a sham marriage if you get down to it. On his way out of town, Hassan stop by his cousin’s house and told him to go fetch his new bride who was back at the families mud hut. Mohammad Ali took Amena to his sister’s house where he beat and raped her repeatedly. You can imagine what was going through this 14 year old girls mind as she was trapped with this criminal.

She found out through a friend that she was now the new bride to her cousin and promptly ran away to the man she truly loved, Hossain, who lived in the next village. Together they went to another Mullah and were married in front of him with witnesses this time. She believed that this was the first time she had been married, so the couple went to the local police station to explain what was going on and to seek help in the matter.

Unfortunately, she was arrested for bigamy, see you can’t have two husbands here, but she didn’t see it that way as she wasn’t even at the “First Wedding” with her cousin that her father made. When the police heard that, they arrested the father and cousin for having done the “arranged marriage” thing and threw them both into the clink as well.

The worst part of this story happened when her case was heard in the primary court without her. I guess she and the prosecutor were delayed and the judge who wouldn’t even let her defense lawyer speak, sentenced her to 7 years imprisonment and if he didn’t like it, to take it up to the Supreme court in Kabul. He also sent the father and cousin away as well for the same amount of time. Hassan asked his cousin if he would divorce Amena to get them out of jail and he would give him his second daughter but Mohammad Ali said no way, I just want Amena. True love I guess on his part.

This case is much more then just a legal issue because it covers so many other factors that come into play over here such as religion, culture, shura law and family. This girl was sitting in a prison for a crime that she didn’t commit and never given the opportunity to prove her innocence. I don’t want to tell you the conditions a young girl faces in a men’s prison over here, and I, as a father, couldn’t sit by and not try to help. Paul is a father as well, which prompted his intervention.

I forwarded this letter and appeal to a Marine lawyer I know, Major Rob P. another member of my team working on prison reform and the Rule of law who then got it to a member of our Embassy a guy name Gary P. Over the course of several weeks, this package finally made it’s way to the head of the Supreme Court in Kabul where he did the right thing and released Amena from jail. Unfortunately, he also released the father and cousin as well, causing serious discord between both families and since she shamed their honor, there are credible death threats against her.

I have to say that I’m proud of being a part of the greater change in Afghanistan, but it’s a change that I won’t see for years down the road, like what has happened in Iraq. It’s the small things like this that really make me feel like I will have left here and actually accomplished something. Just being able to be a small part of the wheel that turned enough to open her jail cell is good enough for me. So, if you want a “what have we done lately for the Afghan’s” story, here you go. Feel free to pass it on.
Semper Fi,

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