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Air Force ‘Legal Eagles’ Meet With Afghan Military Legal Leaders

By Tech. Sgt. Chuck Marsh, USAF
Special to American Forces Press Service

SOUTHWEST ASIA, Aug. 23, 2006 – Two Air Force legal leaders journeyed through Southwest Asia from Aug. 14 to 17, stopping in Kabul, Afghanistan, for a two-day seminar and lending their expertise to help train and inform Afghan military legal leaders on the rule of law.

Maj. Gen. Jack Rives, Air Force judge advocate general, and Col. Lindsey Graham, an appellate military judge, made their way to the 379th Air Expeditionary Wing legal office and the Combined Air Operations Center at this undisclosed forward-deployed location, as a last stop before returning to the United States.

They attended a seminar 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 the Defense Institute of International Legal Studies in the training of Afghan judges, trial and defense counsels out of Kabul,” Rives said.

Traveling with the general and on his first trip in an Air Force desert camouflage uniform, was Graham, who spends the majority of his time performing his “day job” as a U.S. senator from South Carolina. He also manages to fulfill a duty to his country in another fashion — as an appellate judge in the Air Force Reserve. Graham worked during the trip to pass knowledge on to his Afghan counterparts.

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

Graham said he was honored at the opportunity to help Afghans continue to form the country they want and have taken great strides to live in.

“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.”

Graham said he tried to impress upon his Afghan counterparts 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 can’t be taken away by a political party.

“We cannot win this war just by dropping bombs and firing weapons,” he 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.”

Graham is the only senator currently serving in the armed forces and expressed his desire to carry on the tradition of senators with military ties. He replaced Strom Thurmond as a South Carolina senator. Thurmond landed at Normandy in World War II and later retired from the Army reserve as a major general.

While both Rives and Graham said they were impressed with strides Afghan leaders have taken, they were also impressed with the airmen, soldiers, sailors, Marines and Coast Guardsmen dedicated to bettering that country.

“After my visit to Afghanistan, I am more optimistic than I have ever been,” Graham 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 (people in general) safer. What you do really does matter -- you get a chance to make a difference not only in individual lives, but to change countries.”

(Air Force Tech. Sgt. Chuck Marsh is assigned to U.S. Central Command Air Forces Forward.)

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