Lifting fingerprints - and Afghan justice
June 26, 2013
BAGRAM AIRFIELD, Afghanistan - "Fingerprints and DNA," said Jonathan Hanning, "this is something very common ... that you are seeing in the courts here at the Justice Center in Parwan."
The Justice Center in Parwan is in fact a unique court. The center is an Afghan controlled and operated court which primarily deals with terrorism and national security cases. Coalition Forces provide technical assistance and operate in an advisory capacity.
The four judges, four prosecutors, five defense counsels and two Afghan legal consultants who attended the class all work at the center. The men all listened as Hanning, the chief trainer for the Theater Explosive Exploitation, or TEX Team, Combined Joint Task Force Paladin, began a brief description of fingerprints - the different types of fingerprints, how to collect them from a crime scene, and how unique they are to each individual.
This is something with which many Americans who have watched CSI, Law and Order or any other crime drama are very familiar.
"By providing this education to the judges, prosecutors and defense counsel ... to explain that a fingerprint is unique," said U.S. Army Maj. Alison Tulud, deputy officer in charge, Justice Center in Parwan, Rule of Law Field Force - Afghanistan. "Our main ... concern is to insure that the judges, prosecutors, defense counsel understand the underlying science."
While this may seem old news to the Western justice system, it is new for many Afghans.
"The only place we [saw fingerprint and DNA evidence] was here. Before ... we didn't have any cases like that," said Mohammad Hamayoon, the chief judge of the Juvenile Appellate Court. "I appreciate the course that we have here, and I want you to continue with them. This is the way that we can learn from each other."
Before June2010, when the JCIP was created, these types of cases were prosecuted under the U.S. Law of Armed Conflict. These were Coalition courts and this type of evidence was accepted as routine. Now in the Afghans courts, ROLFF-A, CJTF Paladin and others are assisting them in providing a fair and modern legal system to all Afghans.
"In our Article 37, section 3 [Afghan criminal code] it mentions how ... evidence should be reviewed," said Hasib Shirzai, an Afghan legal consultant at the JCIP. "That's why, for our judicial system, it is very important to be familiarized with fingerprints and DNA in a very technical way."
In order to understand the importance of Hanning's class, it is important to keep in mind that while fingerprints and DNA are used the same way in an Afghan court as they are in an American court, the court's legal system itself is very different.
"It's based on a civil law system," said Tulud. "It's not an adversarial process, like we have in America. Your prosecutor has a responsibility in his investigation to provide all the facts to the court. The judge asks all the questions in the court ... he has a very interactive role. The defense counsel's role is to... rebut the allegations."
Another area where it is different is the length of each trial.
"It's more of a paperwork process, there's a lot of investigation that goes into a [trial] before you actually come to the court room. Months of investigation, of paperwork ... all of that is provided to the court," said Tulud. "Then [the parties] will go into the court room and a court [trial] will take about an hour."
The majority of an Afghan trial is conducted in the paperwork or investigative phase. This is when the prosecutor gathers all the facts and presents it to the judge and defense counsel. It is in this paperwork process that the prosecution support package is created. Part of the PSP is a section indicating whether or not the defendant's fingerprints or DNA were found on any evidence.
For example, if the accused is charged with manufacturing an improvised explosive device, were his fingerprints or DNA found on the device, or more importantly, at the scene of an attack?
It is for this reason Hanning stood before the court members, and step-by-step, walked the men through the process of how fingerprints can be left on IED components and how they can be collected for use in court.
"If an explosion can blow up a vehicle, how can it still have DNA and fingerprint evidence left behind? That's the main question we get asked all the time," said Hanning. "If it did all this destruction, how is the evidence left behind ... it obliterates everything?"
The course is normally a two day event. On the second day the students are taken to the range where they watch Hanning leave his fingerprints and DNA on an IED as 'evidence'. After everyone is moved to safety, the IED is detonated; the leftover pieces are collected and in front of the students analyzed, revealing the 'evidence' left behind.
"It's just something that you can't put into writing or show them a demonstration. You have to physically show them that," said Hanning. "After seeing it with their own eyes, they're convinced."
As part of the course, Hanning paired the students up into teams and had them dust various items for fingerprints and then lift the prints.
"The question was always, 'How did they collect [the fingerprints] and how did they read [them], how did they match them," said Shirzai. "That was the question."
A question this course is designed to answer.
"This filled in all the gaps that we had before," said Shafiq Shayeq, defense counsel, Legal Aid Organization of Afghanistan, "And the lesson we had from the course is going to help us with the information that we have from the PSP and the cases that we have."
The Afghans have their own labs to analyze the evidence that is collected from the field, but are still receiving assistance from Coalition Forces due to the volume of evidence waiting to be processed.
"This is very solid evidence, nobody can just close their eyes to that and say it is not important," said Shirzai. "DNA and fingerprints are very important to relate the criminal to the crime."
Providing the Afghans with modern forensic tools is just one of the things that the TEX team from CJTF Paladin offers.
"Every time I ask the students, 'Is there anything else that I can help you out with?' They always say, 'We need more training, my colleagues need more training; they weren't able to make it here today. Can you please come back?'" said Hanning. "If we can get through to one or two students in the class, then we have made a positive impact; because those one or two students will go back and teach another person, and then they'll teach another person, and it will just keep growing."
Many of the students in class asked for more in-depth training. Hanning and the TEX team have begun to teach a course designed to build on the Afghans' desire to learn more about forensics. The course will teach Afghans modern forensic techniques and enable them to teach their fellow Afghans the same methods. This will enable them to keep using modern forensic techniques after the Coalition Forces have left Afghanistan.