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Lead Military Lawyer Confirms Afghan Witnesses Said They Were Paid By U.S.

Following up on my story posted this morning about the government’s botched case against an Afghan teenager held at Guantanamo Bay, I spoke today to Maj. Gen. David Frakt, the lead military defense lawyer on the case who’s represented Jawad both before the U.S. military commission at Guantanamo Bay and in his habeas corpus case in federal court. Frakt confirmed what Marine Corps Maj. Eric Montalvo, his assistant on the case, [told me earlier](that the government's key witnesses said they were paid or given gifts to testify. They seemed to expect the same from Jawad's defense lawyers, Frakt said. "They acknowledged it on tape," Frakt said. "It was in the context of, well, they gave me $400, what can you do for me?" These witnesses were mostly Afghan police, said Frakt. "It just shows that the level of Afghan police corruption, as addressed in numerous reports by the U.S. State Department, is incredibly high and makes it very difficult to make a compelling case based on Afghan police statements," said Frakt. "After all, it's the Afghan police who were determined to have tortured Jawad, so their statement must be taken with a grain of salt." Meanwhile, there seemed for years to be no eyewitnesses to the grenade attack -- Jawad is accused of throwing a grenade at U.S. soldiers in 2002. "I questioned repeatedly why, with a grenade attack that occurred in broad daylight in a public bazarre, there was not a single eye witness. Particularly when news accounts said civilians helped subdue the suspects who were arrested," says Frakt. Finally realizing this shortcoming in its case, a joint Defense and Justice Department task force in February 2009 went to Afghanistan to try to find new witnesses. But the one "new" witness the government claimed in court proceedings that it has, said Frakt, when interviewed by Montalvo, recanted the entire story. "He recanted that statement and admitted he actually hadn't seen the attack, and from his vantage point couldn't have seen it," says Frakt. "As a token of appreciation for the inconvenience" of his testimony, Frakt says, "he said he was given a new pair of shoes." "In part this is the way business is done over there," fRakt said. "But that's not the way business is done in the United States. And it casts some suspicion."): that the government’s key witnesses in the case said they were paid or given gifts to testify.

Frakt said the witnesses seemed to expect the same from the defense lawyers. “They acknowledged it on tape,” Frakt said. “It was in the context of, ‘well, they gave me $400, what can you do for me?’”

These witnesses were mostly Afghan police, said Frakt. “It just shows that the level of Afghan police corruption, as addressed in numerous reports by the U.S. State Department, is incredibly high and makes it very difficult to make a compelling case based on Afghan police statements,” said Frakt. “After all, it’s the Afghan police who were determined to have tortured Jawad, so their statement must be taken with a grain of salt.”

Meanwhile, there seemed for years to be no eyewitnesses to the 2002 grenade attack that Jawad is accused of perpetrating. “I questioned repeatedly why, with a grenade attack that occurred in broad daylight in a public bazarre, there was not a single eye witness. Particularly when news accounts said civilians helped subdue the suspects who were arrested,” said Frakt.

Finally realizing this shortcoming in its case, a joint Defense and Justice Department task force in February 2009 — more than six years after the attack occurred — went to Afghanistan to try to find new witnesses. But the one “new” witness the government claimed in court proceedings that it has, said Frakt, recanted the entire story when Montalvo interviewed him in Afghanistan. “He admitted he actually hadn’t seen the attack, and from his vantage point couldn’t have seen it,” said Frakt.

In exchange for his testimony, or “as a token of appreciation for the inconvenience,” Frakt said, “he said he was given a new pair of shoes.”

“In part this is the way business is done over there,” Frakt said. “But that’s not the way business is done in the United States. And it does cast some suspicion.”

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