Air Force legal leaders meet with Afghan counterparts

SOUTHWEST ASIA (AFPN) -- Two Air Force legal leaders visited Southwest Asia in August, stopping in Kabul, Afghanistan, for a two-day seminar with Afghan military legal leaders on the rule of law.

Maj. Gen. Jack Rives, Air Force judge advocate general, and Col. Lindsey Graham, appellate military judge, met leaders from the 379th Air Expeditionary Wing legal office, as well as the Combined Air Operations Center, before returning to the states.

The seminar they attended was sponsored by the Afghan Ministry of Defense in conjunction with the Defense Institute of International Legal Studies, an independent legal group based in Newport , R.I. Afghan judges, prosecutors and defense counsel also attended.

"A responsibility I have is working with Defense Institute of International Legal Studies in the training of Afghan judges, trial and defense counsels (in) Kabul," said General Rives, who was also able to teach one block of training.

Traveling with the general was Colonel Graham, who spends the majority of his time performing his "day job" as a U.S. senator from South Carolina. He also manages to serve his country in another fashion -- as an appellate judge in the Air Force Reserve. Colonel Graham was engaged in passing on knowledge to his Afghan counterparts.

"The purpose behind my visit and this whole effort is to get the Afghan military to buy in to the rule of law," Colonel Graham said. "The military can (then) spread it to the country. I saw an enthusiasm by the judges, prosecutors and defense councils to make this work. They know that what they're doing in the Afghan military is historic."

The Afghan Ministry of Defense and general staff lawyers already created history in August 2005 when they finalized revisions to a draft Afghan Code of Military Justice, based on the U.S. Uniform Code of Military Justice.

Coast Guard Capt. Chris Martin, a DIILS instructor, was quoted in a September 2005 Defense Institute of Security Assistance Management article saying, "The objective of this mission was not to teach, but leave behind a bedrock document that would have positive ramifications far into the future."

The effects of those finalized revisions are seen today, and Colonel Graham said he was honored at the opportunity to team up and help the Afghans continue to form the country in which they want to live.

"They have a chance to start over again as a country, and they want to take advantage of this opportunity," the colonel said. "I was in a room with a bunch of people who are the first in their field. These men are the first military prosecutors to operate outside the Soviet system. They are the first group of judges that will be judging on the rule of law, not the rule of gun. I was in a room of George Washingtons, Thomas Jeffersons, John Marshalls and John Jays."

The colonel said he tried to impress upon them that while the United States is roughly 230 years old, it has come a long way, evolving primarily due to the acceptance of the rule of law. Under this system, he said, not only can everybody have their say, but they also have rights that cannot be taken away by a political party.

"We cannot win this war just by dropping bombs and firing weapons," the colonel said. "The way we win this war is to allow the Afghan people, once the Taliban have been suppressed, to start over with a new system that will allow them to live under the rule of law and at peace with their neighbors. I tried to impress upon the Afghan military leaders that a well-ordered and well-disciplined military is the key to their country's future, and you can't have a well-disciplined force unless you have the rule of law yourself."

Colonel Graham is the only senator serving in the armed forces. He replaced Strom Thurmond when the South Carolina senator died. Senator Thurmond was a major general in the Air Force Reserve who had landed at Normandy in World War II.

While both General Rives and Colonel Graham said they were impressed with the strides the Afghan leaders have taken, they were equally impressed with the servicemembers who have dedicated their lives to bettering that country.

"After my visit to Afghanistan I am more optimistic than I have ever been," the colonel said. "To all those folks supporting the operations in Afghanistan, I can tell you it's paying off. You're giving these people a chance they have never had before. Not only will it make Afghanistan a better place to live and work, it will also make us safer. What you do really does matter -- you get a chance to make a difference not only in individual lives, but to change countries."