Afghan President's Bodyguards Charged With Rape

From NY-Times:
KABUL, Afghanistan — The attorney general of Afghanistan has ordered the arrest of nine vice-presidential bodyguards over accusations of rape and torture made by a political rival, and the vice president himself remains under investigation, officials said on Tuesday.

The arrest warrants, confirmed by the attorney general’s office, came after Gen. Abdul Rashid Dostum, the more senior of Afghanistan’s two vice presidents, and his bodyguards refused to show up for questioning about the allegations, despite repeatedly being summoned by prosecutors. The case is testing the government’s resolve to deliver justice in the face of a potentially dangerous showdown between a powerful former warlord and the shaky coalition administration of which he is a part.

Ahmad Ishchi, a 63-year-old elder from General Dostum’s own Uzbek ethnic group, has accused the vice president of abducting him from a sports stadium in November, personally and repeatedly beating him, and ordering his men to sexually assault him with an assault rifle during five days of captivity in the northern province of Jowzjan.

Attorney General Mohammad Farid Hamidi declined to discuss the case in detail on Tuesday but said that his prosecutors were focused on enforcing the law with precision.

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“We are following the law in this case hair by hair,” Mr. Hamidi said.

President Ashraf Ghani has said that he takes the allegations against General Dostum seriously and that the case will be handled fairly within the judicial system to show that no one is above the law. Mr. Ghani has told Western diplomats that he is tired of officials breaking the law with impunity, and he characterized the Dostum case as a make-or-break challenge to his government.

But many have said that Mr. Ghani shares the blame for bringing General Dostum onto his ticket in the first place, despite grave concerns about the former warlord’s human rights record.

Spokesmen and aides to General Dostum could not be reached for comment about the warrants on Tuesday, but in recent weeks, they have rejected the summons against him as unconstitutional.

Bashir Ahmad Tayanj, a spokesman for General Dostum, said last month that the allegations were baseless and that the vice president had constitutional immunity from prosecution as part of the president’s elected ticket.

In recent weeks, however, senior government officials say General Dostum’s aides have been in contact with the attorney general’s office, where they have been clearly told that the vice president has no choice but to cooperate. The general’s aides have asked for time, two senior officials said.

Mr. Ishchi welcomed the news of the warrants and insisted that the bodyguards be arrested immediately. But he said justice would only be served once General Dostum’s fate had been made clear. “Dostum committed an obvious crime, and when the crime is evident, the government can arrest the criminal even if he is a very high-profile person,” he said.

General Dostum is part of a generation of Afghan warlords who stand accused of human rights violations, mostly during the country’s civil war in the 1990s. But until now, most of those figures have seemed immune to the consequences, remaining in positions of power.

Before issuing the summons for General Dostum, the attorney general sought the support of Mr. Ghani and the national security council, which includes all the security ministries. A detailed plan of action was discussed at a meeting of the council, at which all the agencies pledged support for the prosecutors.

General Dostum’s supporters have insisted that Mr. Ishchi was not abducted but, rather, arrested by security forces on charges of aiding the Taliban in Jowzjan Province.

“Force, injury, and mistreatment — we cannot deny that, because in the past these accusations have been there against Afghan forces, that they mistreat suspects during arrest and interrogation,” Mr. Tayanj said in the interview last month.

But he denied the accusation of sexual assault.

Both sides have also made emotional appeals to the public on the nightly news. On one news program, Mr. Tayanj presented a medical document that he said was from a government forensics examination; he said it disproved Mr. Ishchi’s assertions of sexual assault but did not go into detail, simply brandishing the paper.

A day later, Mr. Tayanj allowed two New York Times reporters to examine the document. It stated that there had been a wound next to Mr. Ishchi’s rectum but that it had been treated, making it difficult to determine what had caused it.

Two other medical reports seen by The Times also attest to the presence of a significant wound. One was written by doctors at the United States military air base in Bagram, the other by doctors at the government-run Wazir Akbar Khan hospital, in Kabul.

When the reporters pressed Mr. Tayanj about the wound, he said it was not evidence of sexual assault.

“If someone hits someone with a rifle, no matter where they hit, is that sexual assault? Sexual assault has its own specific meaning,” Mr. Tayanj said. “They have made it seem as if he was an 18-year-old girl who was taken and done something wrong to.”

Aides to General Dostum have called for traditional mediation by tribal elders to resolve the issue, flatly rejecting the judicial process. He is also said to have sent a delegation of elders to negotiate with Mr. Ishchi.

Baktash Ishchi, one of Mr. Ishchi’s sons, said that they insisted on following the legal process and would not engage in traditional mediation.

“This is not an issue for traditional mediation — it is not like he took our camel, so we accept a horse in return,” he said. “There is a crime that has taken place.”

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