America is either a Nation of Laws or it is not. Police cannot be above the Law.

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On March 23, 2005, I lost a good friend. He was a rookie Police Officer. He’d been on the job about a year.

I helped Pete build up the courage to ask out his future wife who is one of my best friends. Pete was a good guy.  A moral man who would have been a good Cop.  I’m not sure if that would have helped or hindered his career. I would have hoped that he’d have risen through the ranks and tackled the hard questions of Policing in modern day America. I would hope that he’d have done some good and, perhaps, even gone on to bring change and accountability to the Police force of Louisville/Jefferson County, Kentucky.

However, his life was cut short. I would blame this on poor training. Pete wasn’t equipped, yet, to be out there on his own and survive. He wasn’t trained to survive. Like most officers, he was trained to respond and to “shoot first.” However, he wasn’t equipped to deal with a mentally ill 16 year old with a death wish. Because of that, he died. The Louisville Metro Police Department failed Pete massively.

I have an Uncle who is a career Cop. Another Uncle has been a Sheriff of a small locality right outside of Louisville proper.

I’ve spent 3 years in Afghanistan training Afghan National Police forces and working with amazing people who happen to be Police.  Some of them decry the State of the Police forces in America. Some of them…well, they are part of the problem.

By no means do I hate Police.  What I absolutely abhor is the corruption inherent in our American Police forces.

I was asked by Afghan Police constantly how they could combat the corruption that is rife within their Police Forces. I never had a good answer. Cops who fight corruption die. They are killed by fellow Officers. They are allowed to be placed into dangerous situations that lead to their deaths so as to rid the corrupt Cops of the rat. A good Cop who tries to do something about corruption is ostracized.  They’re run off the job. They are bullied. This is American Policing.

I have spent a good deal of time researching American Police. What I have found is rampant corruption and Cops who believe that they are above the law. The problem is that the US Courts have given them qualified immunity. This, in fact, does place them above the law.

This must change or America can not be a nation of laws or a nation of Liberty.

Bigotry in Afghanistan

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Let me preface this by saying that I am by no means making the statement that all Afghans are bigots or racist.  Nor am I stating that all Afghan National Security Force personnel are bigots.  That said, racism and bigotry are rampant in Afghanistan.

It is a shame that folks come to Afghanistan from all over the world to try to lend a hand and their efforts are repaid with racist attitudes.  Bad enough that corruption has made it all but impossible to make real progress here.  Measurable progress inn our endeavors in the Stan is extremely difficult to sustain.  This is bad enough.  When advisors are ignored simply because of the color of their skin or the shape of their eyes, this only makes the job more difficult.

I have served in mentor and advisory positions for roughly 5 years in Afghanistan.  I’ve worked with the Afghan National Police in Herat, Farah, Ghor and Badghis as well as with the Afghan National Army in Kabul both with the Kabul Military Training Center and the Afghan Partnering Unit.  In each of these locations, I have discovered that Afghans, who see themselves as “White,” have harsh and negative opinions of peoples of Asian and African descent.

If one has the appearance similar to Hazaras, one is automatically looked down upon.  A mentor who looks Hazara is all but ignored.  I have discovered the same attitudes shown towards African Americans and all other African peoples.

While I was in Herat, the ANP would make disparaging statements about Barack Obama during his candidacy openly mocking him because of his skin color.  They started calling my African-American counterparts “Obama cousins.”  They had this attitude towards anyone who looked remotely African American.  This attitude carried forward in their mentor/advisory relationships with African-Americans as well as any Asian peoples.

Asian peoples would be called Hazari and thenceforth ignored being seen and treated as valueless.  African Americans would be treated similarly.

I experimented with this a few times by having one of my team members discuss subjects with them and make suggestions about areas well within his expertise.  None of the Afghans would take him seriously or attempt to put these suggestions into action going so far as to tell said team member that the suggestion would be impossible to implement or that it was a bad idea.  Usually they would employ the favored Afghan tactic and say; “This is not in our culture.”   I would make the same suggestions a week or so later.  The Afghans would usually act on the suggestion within a week or so.  Same suggestion, sold in much the same way.  One Black person, one White person.  Completely opposite reactions.

At my newest location, I discussed these racial attitudes with my interpreter.  He replied that I may be correct.  I have been able to step in here and get positive results in a much shorter time than my counterparts.  I have noticed the relationships between my fellow advisors and the Afghans.  From my vantage point after watching and listening for a month, there is no reason that more improvement could not have been made in a shorter time.  However, two of the advisors with whom I work are Black.  Both of them are experienced.  Both of them retired military.  They have the expertise to get the job done, to advise and to mentor.  Both of them have been here in Afghanistan around 4 years as civilian advisors as well as having deployed to Afghanistan and Iraq while serving in the military.

Neither of them have made great strides in this position.  Something toxic existed.  That toxicity was, I surmised, the racism of the local Afghan officers.

Fast forward to a week ago, I told my interpreter that the reason that one of my counter-parts was having issues was the racism of his Afghan counterpart.  My Interpreter gave me that “OKAY…” look and laughed it off.  A couple of days later, this Afghan told me that he didn’t like “Africans.”  His word for Black people.  I looked at my Interpreter with raised eyebrow but said little.  I’m not here to preach at anyone concerning moral issues.  That said, I decided to put into action a plan to turn this Afghan Colonel towards the side of light and away from racism and prejudice.  I’ll have to be subtle but anything is possible.

I’ve run into racism all over the world.  For some odd reason, many Americans and especially the more naive people on the Left, believe that racism is “America’s special shame.”  I don’t see it that way.  Racism in America is mild as compared to that of Thailand, the Gulf and Central Asia.  I’ve encountered racism, bigotry and prejudice the world over.  It has hit me from all sides.  I’ve been treated preferentially in places like Afghanistan and Cambodia because of my “bright skin.”  I’ve also been treated as if I were less than human or automatically judged negatively due to the color of my skin and my national heritage.  Being an American pays off well in most cases across the world.  At times, though, being an American will be cause for instantaneous and harsh judgment.  This is mostly the case with liberal Europeans who have a special hate for all things American.

I find it unfortunate and shameful that African Americans leave behind racism in America only to find racism on the opposite side of the planet.  That same racism can be found all over, though. It is not unique to Afghanistan.

Myself, I’ve found it best to see people as they are.  Through their actions and their interactions with humanity.  Judging a person by the color of their skin or because of their place of birth or religion of birth is a wretched lens through which to see the world and interact with our fellow humans.  I have met good people and evil people of all races, nationalities and religions.  There is not special combination that magically informs me as to a persons goodness or lackthereof.

Judging on superficialities is the only sure way to close oneself off to the beauty that exists in the world.  I have met wonderful people because I have refused to judge people based upon anything else but their individualism.  We are each of us unique.  No person should be judged based upon any subset or group.  To look at another and instantly come to the conclusion that they are unworthy of me is in and of itself a shameful sin.  To come to this conclusion simply because they have darker skin than I…that must be the greatest sin against humanity ever conceived by man.

Afghanistan — Conversations about Corruption & Change

I’m out of my resident camp doing training at a remote site. I’m participating in a reform program designed to bring the Afghan National Police (ANP) up to speed with the Afghan National Army (ANA). A laughable thought.

My task is to give a general logistics class to the policemen of the Districts chosen for training. Later, I will come back and give a more detailed block of instruction to the leaders and logisticians that lasts about two weeks.

Some of our instructors are boring. They dryly read off the screen. No presentation. No personality. Forgettable. Who remembers the things that bore you to sleep. I don’t.

I try to find ways to liven up the classes. I try to include the students in the class. It’s not always easy. Many of them can’t read. We’ll have one or two who can’t speak Dari. They speak Pushto instead. So it becomes difficult to communicate at times. The language barrier is difficult at times. I can understand some Dari. But not a lot. I know no Pushto at all. Well, I know that Sengey (spelling??) means “how are you?” But that’s about it.

During the class, one thing that I like to do is use the Taliban as examples in my instruction. It lets me gauge the spirit of the group. The intent of the group. This groups seems to enjoy the thought of taking the Taliban out. The last group. I got the feeling that I was talking to the Taliban. lol

The last FDD. I just kind of jumped up there and didn’t do a whole lot of interaction. I kept my opinions to myself. I have a lot of opinions. lol Hence this blog. This time. I can’t keep myself closed off. These boys seem smarter. They seem more earnest. They seem to care. The first FDD classes seemed like mad men from the wilds. I actually felt that if I turned my back on them outside of the compound, that I would be impaled or gutted. Probably raped first.

These kids seem like the group of boys we sent over to die in World War I or World War II. They know they are into something. They seem to want to do well. They were polite. They were attentive. They asked good questions.

I couldn’t sit back and just give the same dead answers.

I’m teaching these guys the proper methods and attitudes about logistics. One of them stood up and told me. “This is all good. But this is the way of this academy. It is not the way that things happen down in the districts.” Another stood up and asked me how could he make sure that he was signing the proper documentation when he can’t read. Others related stories of corruption of varying degrees. So I tried to be real with them. I can’t deny that there is major corruption within the ranks of the ANP. It’s there. Just this past month, half of the logistics officers of a major command were jailed or relieved for incompetence or major corruption scandals that involved fuel.

So I told them stories to relate how we did it. How we came to the fore. How the US did away with corruption. How the US military went from a force of misfits and draftees and pervasive corruption to the most lethal and professional miltary force on the planet.

I told them that it would take time. and that it would probably be their children who benefit from it. I told them to learn. To take care of themselves. Then take care of their corner of the world. Work your way out. If your lucky, you can make a small change that will affect the decisions of others. And maybe. Just maybe. If you’re lucky, you can set off a chain of reactions that will take hold. You never know. I told them that it will have to be their generation that makes the change. I told them that some of them will probably be killed because of their honestly. Often times in the history of America those who stood for change were killed. But if you want your people and your country to benefit in the ways that other nations benefit. If they want to live in a society where corruption is not the rule of the day. Unfortunately, those sacrifices are demanded and exacted. Many changes are coming to Afghanistan and the ANP. Now is the time to take advantage of opportunity. Find a way to learn to read and write. Find a way to take advantage of the opportunities that come.

Now, I didn’t use those exact words. Had I spoken like that. Translation would have been near impossible. All of that kind of talk is translated on the fly. I sometimes have to stop and make sure that my Terp knows the meaning of a word.

I’ve started to end my classes by telling them of the US Army and the Korean Army. I’ll tell them that there is hope. The US Army was created in 1776. It did not become the professional fighting force that it is today. It did not evolve into the well oiled machine that it is today until after World War II. It took well over 150 years for the United States Army to become arguably the greatest Army in the history of the World.

Korea. The North attacked the South in 1950. We helped fight the North back into it’s own territory. Then the United States and several other nations stuck around and helped to train the Korean Army and the international community helped to build Korea into the Nation that it is today. That effort took well into the 1980s. Some 30 odd years.

So there is hope. It will take time. But it can be done. It takes the youth of the nation to grow and take charge. Karzai will not be the one to bring Afghanistan into the modern era. Maybe not even the next President or Prime Minister. It will be a collective effort. And it will cost. The youth of Afghanistan must be willing to pay that price.

Most of all, they must teach their children. At all costs. Teach the children.

There is hope. Afghanistan will not change overnight. If it changes, it will come with new generations. As does most change. Some attitudes die hard. Tradition. Dies hard and slow. Tribalism is a centuries old fact of life in Afghanistan. I don’t know if it will ever change or go away altogether. But it must give way to a better way or Afghansitan is doomed to return to the old ways. Even King Zahir Shah saw that Afghanistan needed to move away from the old ways and into the modern era. Let’s hope some of his wisdom was passed on.