Throughout March and April, we are sharing stories from Navy judge advocates who have served as Rule of Law Field Support Officers (ROLFSOs). Today’s post is from Lt. Nicolaus Gruesen, Khost & Paktya Provinces, Afghanistan.
Lt. Nicolaus Gruesen, Khost & Paktya Provinces, Afghanistan
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Lt. Nicolaus Gruesen, U.S. Army Capt. John Reilly, Col. Abdul Hamid Qate (Khost Provincial National Security Prosecutor), Lt. Jason Pfiel, Col. Safeer Mohammad (Khost/Paktya National Security Investigator), U.S. Army Capt. Rich Kirkendall, and U.S. Air Force Capt. Michael Toomer.
In January 2011, I deployed to Afghanistan as a part of the Rule of Law Field Force–Afghanistan. After I arrived, I was attached to 3rd
Infantry Division, also known as Task Force Duke. I was the Rule of Law Attorney responsible for all organic Rule of Law activities and operations within the Task Force Duke campaign plan. Task Force Duke’s Area of Operation consisted of Khost and Paktya provinces along the southeastern border with Pakistan. As the brigade Rule of Law Attorney, it was my primary duty to coordinate rule of law efforts on behalf of the brigade across Khost and Paktya. That meant coordinating with the other stakeholders in rule of law to build toward our common goal for the provinces–a transparent, accessible, and fair Afghan justice system that settles civil disputes, holds criminals accountable, and inspires public confidence in the Afghan government. As the brigade Rule of Law Attorney, I was responsible for an office consisting of two Criminal Investigative Division (CID) agents, two Law Enforcement Professionals (LEPs), an interpreter, an Afghan Legal Advisor, and an Afghan National Security Prosecutor. The unit was a joint partnership with Navy, Army, Air Force, civilian, and, most importantly, Afghan membership. Building a productive working relationship with Afghan partners is a critical element for success in any Rule of Law position. I spent the first few weeks in Khost not only learning the details of the position, but also building familiarity with the Afghan National Security Prosecutor. The Prosecutor lived on the Forward Operating Base (FOB), ate with us, and shared a working space with our team. This arrangement was part of a prototype program in Afghanistan known as the National Security Prosecutor Embed Program. The majority of my time each day was spent working issues related to the National Security Prosecutor Embed Program. The concept for the program was developed in response to the much-discussed “revolving door” of insurgents from battlefield to detainment and then back to the battlefield. The purpose of the program was to close this door by providing the battle space owner with an additional option when deciding what to do with insurgents detained during combat operations. Instead of temporarily holding and then releasing the insurgents, the battle space owner could hand the individual over to local Afghan authorities for prosecution in Afghan courts by Afghan officials using Afghan law. My office was responsible for developing cases against those insurgents using evidence gathered from the battlefield, statements taken by Afghan civilians and law enforcement, and forensic evidence (explosive residue on clothes, fingerprints, and DNA). Once all the evidence was gathered and the Afghan National Security Prosecutor interviewed the suspect, we discussed the merits of the case. We identified potential charges under Afghan law, probable issues with evidence, and likelihood of conviction. The ultimate decision whether to send the case for prosecution was made by the Afghan National Security Prosecutor working in our office. Once the case was sent for prosecution to Khost City, the provincial capital of Khost Province, our office continued to track the status through the primary court, the provincial appeals court, and ultimately to the Afghan Supreme Court in Kabul. Case tracking and management was difficult due to the lack of computers or electronic case files in Afghan offices. The Afghan system relied entirely on paper case files, log books, and memoranda shuffled between the police, prosecutors, judges, and prisons. This method has proven to work for the vast majority of cases. The National Security Prosecutor Embed Program began with the intention of closing the “revolving door” and acting as a force multiplier for the battle space owner. By the end of my time in Afghanistan, the program was not only achieving its intended purpose, but also having an immensely positive effect on other areas of Rule of Law in Khost. At present, the program is being studied for expansion to FOBs in other provinces. The experience and perspective gained during this individual augmentation will serve me through the rest of my career. The ability to work within the burgeoning legal system of another culture has been challenging and eye-opening. This is an individual augmentation for any judge advocate who wants to be a part of building a new legal system in a high tempo environment and wants to interact regularly with Afghans in their environment.
Don’t forget to check back next week for the third installment in our five-part ROLFSO series.