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Peter Galbraith vs. The New York Times

Speaking of ousted United Nations deputy representative to Afghanistan Peter Galbraith, Galbraith was recently accused in a New York Times piece of promoting the ouster of Afghan President Hamid Karzai. It’s a really serious accusation. And now Galbraith says, at great length, that there’s no truth to it.

In a letter to the paper that the former U.S. ambassador to Croatia is circulating, Galbraith explains that he “never proposed to oust Karzai,” but instead tried to resolve “a looming constitutional crisis caused by Karzai’s maneuvering to stay in office a year beyond the end of his legal term — without submitting himself to the inconvenience of an election.” The Times, Galbraith writes, “deliberately excluded information that would have presented the accusations in a much different light.”

Galbraith’s full letter to the Times is after the jump.

On Thursday, The New York Times ran what it represented as a scoop: that I had plotted to oust Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai in September. In fact, U.N. officials made the same charges in a news conference in October for the same reason that they have trotted them out again: to draw attention away from the U.N.’s mishandling of fraud in the Afghanistan elections.

Readers deserve context in order to understand a complex story. In this case, the Times deliberately excluded information that would have presented the accusations in a much different light. The truth is that I never proposed to oust Karzai, but instead tried to resolve a looming constitutional crisis caused by Karzai’s maneuvering to stay in office a year beyond the end of his legal term — without submitting himself to the inconvenience of an election.

According to Afghanistan’s constitution, President Karzai’s term in office ended May 21, 2009. As presidential elections had not been held by this constitutionally mandated date, Afghanistan’s Supreme Court, in a highly controversial decision, extended Karzai’s term through the planned Aug. 20 presidential elections.

Those elections were characterized by massive fraud. Afghanistan Independent Election Commission (IEC), which was supposed to conduct the elections impartially, operated as the partisan agent of the Karzai campaign. In all instances, it was the IEC staff who perpetrated the fraud, who collaborated with those who committed the fraud, or who knew about the fraud and did nothing about it. On Sept. 7, the IEC voted to include hundreds of thousands of obviously phony votes in Mr. Karzai’s total, this putting him above the 50 percent threshold needed to avoid a runoff. Although there was a process in place for a separate body — the U.N.-appointed Election Complaints Commission (ECC) — to review the IEC’s decision, this was sure to be a lengthy process given the extent of the fraud.

On Sept. 8, the chairman of the IEC and Afghanistan’s chief electoral officer both advised me, as the acting head of the U.N. Mission in Afghanistan, that it would not be possible to hold any required runoff in 2009. They said winter weather made it impossible to have voting after Oct. 15 in large parts of the country, and that the earliest realistic date for a runoff was May 2010.

This raised the serious question of who would be president until 2010. Mr. Karzai’s term had expired. And the opposition would never accept his continuation in office for a full year after the end of his term. As the U.N. had a specific mandate to use its good offices to resolve political conflicts in Afghanistan, it clearly was appropriate for us to consider a way out of this looming political and constitutional crisis. In a private meeting Sept. 9 with Kai Eide, the head of the U.N. Mission who had returned from holiday that day, I urged consideration of having an interim government, headed by a respected neutral figure, in office until a second round could be held in 2010. There was no thought that this would be imposed on the Afghans; rather it would only go forward with the consent of both President Karzai and his main challenger, Dr. Abdullah Abdullah. I also proposed revamping the IEC so that it would be a truly independent body that would have the confidence of both Mr. Karzai and his opponents.

After initially expressing interest in the idea, Mr. Eide asked me to drop it in a meeting on Sept. 10, which I did. Two days later, Mr. Eide sent me a text message asking that I join him in briefing the U.N. Security Council at the end of the month. A few days later, several stories appeared in the British press asserting that Mr. Eide had ordered me to leave Kabul because I wanted to do something about fraud in the Afghanistan elections and he did not. (I had volunteered to leave temporarily, but otherwise the stories were correct). Both Mr. Eide and the U.N. spokesperson in New York issued strong statements expressing confidence in me. Clearly Mr. Eide would not have invited me to help him brief the Security Council and the U.N. would not have supported me if they believed that I was plotting to oust President Karzai.

At the end of the month, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon decided to dismiss me from my post in Afghanistan, apparently deciding that a policy disagreement within a mission — even if expressed privately — was intolerable. Neither he nor anyone at U.N. headquarters asked me about my concerns about fraud in the Afghanistan elections. This proved deeply embarrassing when, a few weeks later, I was proved entirely correct.

Since then, the U.N. has been scrambling to come up with an alternative explanation for my firing. At a news conference Oct. 12, Edmond Mulet, an assistant secretary general, said I was fired for proposing an unconstitutional solution to Afghanistan’ s election crisis — the very charge recycled by the Times in Thursday’s story — and darkly hinted that I had staged my firing so that I could run for political office in my home state of Vermont. When this didn’t get traction, Ban Ki-moon told the British daily Independent on Nov. 4 that I was fired for wanting to disenfranchise Afghans by closing polling centers. Actually, I wanted to close the fake polling centers that produced the hundreds of thousands of phony votes that effectively disenfranchised all Afghans.

The Times story quotes Ambassador Richard Holbrooke, the U.S. special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, as saying he had no knowledge of my supposed plot. The U.S. ambassador to Kabul, Karl Eikenberry, told the Times the same thing, although he is not cited by the paper. It strains credulity to believe that I proposed a plot to oust Karzai to a lesser embassy official (as the Times reports) and he never informed his ambassador or Holbrooke. To be clear, I never proposed to oust Karzai to anyone in the U.S. government, and any discussion would have been about the constitutional issues involved in holding a runoff in May 2010.

Mr. Eide is quoted in the Times as saying President Karzai was “deeply upset” about my supposed plan but fails to disclose how Mr. Karzai would have learned of this very private conversation between Mr. Eide and myself. I can only presume that Eide told him. Oddly, Kai Eide himself proposed that Karzai be replaced with an interim government in a meeting with Kabul-based diplomats in Kabul in October. The Times reporters knew this but also chose not to include it in the story.

The Times excluded one other detail that may explain why this story, which was about conversations that took place in September, didn’t surface until Dec. 17. On Dec. 10, I initiated a wrongful dismissal action against the United Nations. I told the reporter this, but he preferred to wait to run this news in a separate story Dec. 18. Times readers are sophisticated enough to smell a rat when the defendant in a legal action puts out a story intended to smear the plaintiff, but no one reading the Dec. 16 story had the context to see it in that light.

The massive fraud in Afghanistan’s presidential elections has set back the prospects for success in a military mission that soon will involve 100,000 U.S. and allied troops. The U.N., which raised $264 million from U.S. taxpayers to pay for elections that were supposed to be honest, refused to take actions that might have prevented the fraud and after the voting tried to cover it up. This is the real scandal of Afghanistan’s presidential elections. Let’s not change the subject.

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