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The War on Terror: Afghanistan

Aired May 23, 2005 - 23:00:00   ET


GEORGE W. BUSH, U.S. PRESIDENT: Thanks for being such a fine inspiration.

MICHAEL HOLMES, CNN HOST (voice-over): Warm words but difficult issues divide Afghanistan and the United States. President Hamid Karzai comes to the White House seeking answers over alleged prisoner abuse and U.S. military operations. U.S. President George W. Bush wants some answers of his own about Afghanistan's poppy fields.


And welcome to INSIGHT.

Afghan President Hamid Karzai is one of the strongest allies of the United States on the war on terror, but the United States-Afghan relationship is showing some signs of strain. Mr. Karzai went to the White House on Monday seeking more authority over U.S. military operations in his country and also the return of Afghan detainees.

CNN's Dana Bash reports now from the White House.


DANA BASH, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Three-and-a-half years after American forces helped drive the Taliban out of his country, Hamid Karzai came to the White House to tell the president it's time he had more say over U.S. troops there, but got no promises.

BUSH: Of course our troops will respond to U.S. commanders. But our U.S. commanders and our diplomatic mission there is in a consultative relationship with the government.

BASH: President Karzai is under political pressure at home to assert more control over U.S. military operations and made his position clear Sunday on CNN.

HAMID KARZAI, AFGHAN PRESIDENT: Operations that involve going into people's homes, that involves knocking on people's doors, must stop, must not be done, without the permission of the Afghan government.

BASH: But the United States wants broad powers to pursue terror suspects, so while Mr. Bush promised consultation, a new partnership agreement suggests President Karzai did not get the control he was seeking.

It said, quote, "U.S. and coalition forces are to continue to have the freedom of action required to conduct appropriate military operations."

The two leaders took pains to talk up their special relationship, but growing grievances were hard to mask. Mr. Bush complained there is still too much illegal poppy cultivation for heroin in Afghanistan and President Karzai also left without a pledge for more custody over Afghan prisoners held by the United States.

Mr. Karzai said new details of alleged abuse of Afghan detainees made him, quote, "sad," but tried to downplay the significance.

KARZAI: Individual acts do not reflect either on governments or on societies.

BASH: He called a retracted "Newsweek" report U.S. interrogators desecrated the Koran a gossip column and seemed to contradict White House claims the magazine was responsible for deadly protests in his country.

KARZAI: Those demonstrations were in reality not related to the "Newsweek" story. They were more against the elections in Afghanistan.

BASH (on camera): In attempt to calm emotions over that issue, President Karzai talked of his experience going to mosques in the United States and overall tolerance he's seen towards Muslims, saying, quote, "The "Newsweek" story is not America's story."

Dana Bash, CNN, the White House.


HOLMES: Well, in their news conference the two leaders emphasized the fundamental changes in Afghanistan since the Taliban was toppled. The U.S. president welcoming Mr. Karzai as the first democratically elected leader in Afghanistan's history.


BUSH: Your leadership has been strong and it's in our interest that Afghanistan be free. Afghanistan is no longer a safe haven for terrorists. Afghanistan is a key partner in the global war on terror. Our troops have fought and will continue to fight side by side to defeat the few who want to stop the ambitions of the many.

Increasing numbers of low-level Taliban are getting the message that Afghanistan's society is peaceful and optimistic and I appreciate your efforts to reach out to those low-level members of the Taliban. I am impressed by the progress that you're making toward a market economy and a full-fledged democracy.

One of the things that is very important, that is a shift of opinions taking place in Afghanistan, where now women are equal partners in society. Over 40 percent of the voters in that October day were women voters. Girls are now going to school. Women entrepreneurs are opening businesses. The president was telling me that there are quite a number of candidates that have filed for the upcoming legislative elections who are women.

The model, the example being set by Afghanistan in that part of the world is an important message because you can't have a free and hopeful society unless women are full participants in the society.

And so, Mr. President, I thank you for your leadership. We're looking forward to watching and helping to make sure these elections go forward in a peaceful manner. The number of candidates who have filed, it's quite impressive. I think you maybe told me over 5,000.

KARZAI: Over 5,000.

BUSH: Yes, 5,000 people have filed for office. Democracy is flourishing.

KARZAI: I'm here today to thank you, Mr. President, once again, for your leadership in providing Afghanistan the security, the reconstruction and the freedoms that the Afghan people have today.

You cannot imagine, Mr. President, and I cannot tell you in a few words, there are so many words, it has to take a much longer time for me to describe to you what Afghanistan was going through three years ago. So it is difficult to say and I am sometimes rather often, neither our press nor your press nor the press in the rest of the world pickup the miseries of the Afghans three years ago and what has been achieved since then until today.

We have a constitution. We have a presidential election, and I'm glad it turned out to be good for me, and we --

BUSH: I know how you feel.

KARZAI: Yes, well, I believe we share that feeling, yes.

And we are going to have a parliamentary election in three months time, and I just informed the president that we have as of yesterday -- as of the day before yesterday -- over 5,000 candidates national assembly and for the provincial assemblies. There are women from all the provinces of the country who will be coming to the parliament. So the country is moving forward.

We have been talking with your officials in Afghanistan and have conveyed to you through your embassy and government the desire of the Afghan people to have a strategic partnership with America because after the completion of the parliamentary elections, the voting process will come to an end. From that point onwards, we would like the world to recognize that with the completion of the voting process and the arrival of the Afghan Parliament, Afghanistan will not settle this time on its own feet. Politically we will have done the process, politically we will have completed the process, but in the terms of institutional strengthens, Afghanistan will continue to need a lot of support.


HOLMES: And we take a break now on INSIGHT, but when we come back new details about the alleged abuse of Afghan prisoners at a U.S. military detention center.

Do stay with us.


HOLMES: Last week violent protests erupted in Afghanistan and elsewhere in the Muslim world, in part because of a "Newsweek" report. The magazine said interrogators of the U.S. military prison in Guantanamo Bay desecrated the Koran and in one case flushed it down the toilet.

The report was later retracted, but the damage had been done.

And welcome back to you.

For some Muslims, the war on terror can be translated into a war against Islam. They point to the treatment of Muslim prisoners at Guantanamo Bay, at Abu Ghraib, in Iraq and also at the Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan. Now on Friday the "New York Times" newspaper reported the story of two detainees at Bagram who were allegedly tortured and beaten to death back in 2002.

Earlier I spoke with Tim Golden, the "Times" reporter who gained access to the U.S. Army's confidential file on the investigation at Bagram.


TIM GOLDEN, "NEW YORK TIMES": Initially, American officials, senior military officials, at Bagram, insisted publicly that the deaths of these two men within a week of each other were from natural causes, and they said that despite information which they had almost immediately from a military coroner who showed that both deaths -- who ruled that both deaths had been homicides, that both men had been killed by blunt force trauma to their legs.

As it turned out, the generals at Bagram also had information very quickly that military police guards had struck these men with knee strikes, to the thighs, repeated, and that interrogators at Bagram had been abusive to at least one of the detainees.


HOLMES: All right, joining us now to talk about the ongoing investigations into prisoner abuse is retired Brigadier General David Brahms, a military lawyer who practices in San Diego.

General, thanks for your time.

New country, same allegations. What's going on?

BRIG. GEN. DAVID BRAHMS (RET), ARMY LAWYER think there is a great deal of this sort of thing going on. And unfortunately, we start in our investigations of these matters with a premise that nothing is wrong. And when you start with a premise like that, it takes a good bit of time to sort the matter out. And now we see, thanks to the news media and other organizations that are pressing the government for the truth, evidence coming out that there indeed is something going on that is untoward.

HOLMES: I think one of the most disturbing aspects of this is something that you just touched on, and that is that initially those who were looking into these allegations decided there was nothing to investigate, that it should all be dropped. And yet when we see the details contained in that report, that makes no sense whatsoever.

BRAHMS: That's correct.

HOLMES: So what does that mean about what's going on with the system of investigation?

BRAHMS: Well, the system of investigation doesn't work well, as I said before, if you start with a premise that nothing is wrong. If you start with that premise, you look and find things that support the premise, and obviously don't get to the bottom of what really is going on.

HOLMES: Do you see this as systemic or do you see this as Hamid Karzai said, just individuals misbehaving?

BRAHMS: I think there is a systemic problem, both in terms of the investigation and a problem that goes all the way to the White House in terms of the policies that were established early on with respect to dealing with the detainees, policies which have migrated down to those who are interacting with these detainees.

HOLMES: Again, let's explore that just a little bit further. Why do you believe that the buck in pretty much all of these cases has stopped so low?

BRAHMS: Well, because the reality of going higher involves looking at the administration policies to treat these individuals as merely sources of intelligence and in many cases beyond the scope of traditional international law protections and long-standing American policies.

And when you start with that kind of thought process and it migrates down to the lower levels, you end up with the kind of problems that we have here.

HOLMES: How much of it do you believe is training? Perhaps a situation where there were not so much orders to do this but there were not orders to don't do this?

BRAHMS: I think that puts it neatly. Recognizing that whenever you go into a situation of the sort that we have in the war against terrorism, there are many things that can't be foreseen. The situation is often different from that which the individuals at the bottom levels have trained for.

You have to be on top of it. You have to modify your training. You have to understand that there are rules to be followed, and that has to be effectively communicated to those who work with the detainees.

HOLMES: You are, of course, a military man. I'm just curious about this point. Do you think that part of that is a factor of so many national guardsmen going into these war zones, not people who have gone through the full-on military training, the military culture, who are steeped in it every single day. A lot of those who have been accused of these misdeeds are guardsmen.

BRAHMS: Well, there certainly is something there, but I think it's a broader problem and a failure to modify the training and to understand what is happening on the ground, and that certainly is what happened at Abu Ghraib. The various investigations of what occurred at Abu Ghraib clearly identify the failure to properly train those who were dealing with the detainees and also to do the kinds of oversight necessary to establish that these policies and procedures are being carried out.

HOLMES: Would you categorize it as I saw someone -- that the attitude from the top on down was we were attacked on 9/11, the gloves are off, the rulebook has gone out the window?

BRAHMS: Yes. Understand that intelligence is the lifeblood of military operations and national security. We must have intelligence. The question is how to obtain that intelligence.

The goal of obtaining intelligence to discover who was involved, to discover what might be laying in the weeds in terms of additional operations and basic tactical intelligence on the ground are noble goals, important goals, they most be pursued. The question is how.

HOLMES: One final question. We've heard about things at Guantanamo Bay from lawyers and others. We've heard about things at Abu Ghraib because photographs were leaked. We're hearing now about what's been going on perhaps at Bagram from a leaked document. Do you think a lot is being kept behind closed doors?

BRAHMS: I think much of what you are hearing about now indeed was identified by the International Red Cross, by organizations like the New York City Bar, who identified many of the problems and brought them to the attention of the administration and no corrective action was taken.

HOLMES: All right. You're in a great position to analyze these issues for us. We want to thank you, Brigadier General David Brahms, for talking to us on INSIGHT.

BRAHMS: It's a pleasure, Michael.

HOLMES: Don't go away. Just ahead trading poppies for pomegranates. Can it work? We'll explore it after the break.


KARZAI: Equally important is the provision of alternative livelihoods to the Afghan people. The president mentioned pomegranates, honeydew melons, lots of other things in Afghanistan that people destroyed in order to (INAUDIBLE) with poppies, have to be now brought back to the lives of the Afghan farmers. Alternative livelihood and our dedication to the arrest of drug dealers, Mafia that produces the labs, is going on.




HOLMES (voice-over): Afghanistan is one of the poorest countries in the world and growing poppies is one of the few ways an Afghan farmer can feed his family. But the United States wants the poppy crop wiped out as does the Afghan president.

KARZAI: Indeed Afghanistan is suffering from the cultivation of poppies. It is undermining our economy, it's giving us a bad name.


HOLMES: Welcome back.

Heroin comes from opium poppies and nearly 80 percent of the world's supply of the flowers comes from Afghanistan. President Hamid Karzai says his country is reducing poppy production, but he says the international community must do its part to help farmers find alternative crops.

Joining us now to talk about this, Seth Jones, a senior researcher at the Rand Corporation.

Seth, thanks for your time.

It is going to be, is it not, incredibly difficult for Hamid Karzai to significantly cut poppy production given its importance to the nation's economy?

SETH JONES, RAND CORP.: It's going to be incredibly difficult, Michael.

In fact, if you've looked at the last several years, in 2002 roughly 80,000 hectares or so of Afghanistan's cultivation, of Afghanistan's farming was cultivated. We've had about a 100 percent increase since 2002 in opium cultivation in the country and, roughly, as you noted earlier, actually the United Nations indicates that about 90 percent of the world's illicit opium is coming from Afghanistan.

This is going to be an incredibly difficult problem because all the data shows that there has been a substantial increase over the last several years. The trend is going in the wrong direction.

MANN: And leading to warnings that Afghanistan could become a narco- state. Is it already?

JONES: I think in many ways it is. And one of the -- you'll note one of the biggest problems in Afghanistan and one of the biggest problems that the country is going to face in dealing with the narcotics problem is that the central government does not control large swaths of the country. It controls the capital region, but does not control large segments of the country, including the countryside and including places where poppy is grown.

So this makes it very difficult to combat, either through eradication or interdiction or else finding alternative livelihoods for Afghan farmers.

HOLMES: And let's explore that for a minute, because it is really the point. We talk about security being necessary for Iraq to move forward. It is entirely the same situation in Afghanistan, which is still enormously insecure. When it comes to warlordism, must that be the issue the Hamid Karzai tackles before he can even begin to think about poppies?

JONES: Well, that's certainly one of the issues, and he has begun to take some of the top warlords throughout the country, in places like Herat, and move them to Kabul, to the capital area, and giving them government jobs. But there are a number of mid-level warlords or regional commanders that still control territory.

I think that is certainly a problem and that certainly has to be resolved at least in tandem with targeting the narcotics and in particular the poppy problem. And also fixing the justice system, because one of the aspects in combating drugs is building a justice system that can actually effectively prosecute drug traffickers and others involved in the production, cultivating, trafficking of illegal substances, and the United Nations recently just came out with a report which indicated Afghanistan is in the bottom 2 percent of effective justice systems in the world. 98 percent of the countries have a more effective justice system. This is a tremendous problem.

HOLMES: That's a significant statistic.

Finally, and very briefly, if you will, Seth, his response, of course, has been the international community has not done enough to help, to get in there, provide a measure of security and provide an alternative for these farmers, many of whom rely on poppy prices.

JONES: Well, the British government has been given the role of the lead nation for counter-narcotics. And they have been the main foreign government that is in charge of dealing with the poppy problem with the support of the United States, with the support of the United Nations and other organizations. And certainly the British have come under significant criticism for not putting sufficient resources into all aspects of dealing with poppy, including figuring out what are the best alternative crops, such as saffron or wheat or other fruits that could be grown in place of poppy.

HOLMES: And make the farmers the same money.

Seth Jones, senior researcher at Rand Corporation, I want to thank you for your contribution.

JONES: Thank you.

HOLMES: That is it for this edition of INSIGHT. I'm Michael Holmes. The news continues.



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