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2009-08-25

Afghan Election Marred by Fraud, Intimidation, Violence, Low Turnout

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In Afghanistan, election authorities are preparing to publish the first partial results from last week’s presidential election, but the small sample of ten percent may do little to resolve a dispute over the outcome. The August 20th election was marred by fraud, intimidation, violence and low turnout in many areas. The Electoral Complaints Commission says it is looking into at least 250 allegations of misconduct. We go to Kabul to speak with Jonathan Landay of McClatchy Newspapers. [includes rush transcript]

Transcript

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

SHARIF ABDEL KOUDDOUS: In Afghanistan, election authorities are preparing to publish the first partial results from last week’s presidential election, but the small sample of ten percent may do little to resolve a dispute over the outcome.

The August 20th election was marred by fraud, intimidation, violence and low turnout in many areas. The campaigns of President Hamid Karzai, who is seeking a second five-year term, and his nearest challenger, former foreign minister Abdullah Abdullah, have both claimed victory and accused the other of fraud.

The Electoral Complaints Commission says it’s looking into at least 250 allegations of misconduct. Meanwhile, the government says at least twenty-six Afghan security forces and civilians were killed on Election Day.

AMY GOODMAN: We go now to Afghanistan, where we’re joined by Jonathan Landay, the national security and intelligence correspondent for McClatchy Newspapers. He’s joining us from the capital, Kabul.

Jonathan, welcome to Democracy Now! First, could you talk about the return of the Guantanamo prisoner?

JONATHAN LANDAY: Sure. He returned — Mohamed Jawad returned yesterday, or at least as best we can tell, because, of course, the exact return times were kept secret by the Pentagon, including from his own attorney, his own Marine Corps attorney, who had to fly to Afghanistan on money that was provided by a couple of non-governmental organizations in order to ensure that his client was not slapped into an Afghan prison as soon as he got here. So, as near as we can tell, he arrived very late or very early yesterday morning, was processed at Bagram Air Force Base, which is the main US base here in Afghanistan, about an hour’s drive out of Kabul, and then he was helicoptered into the city.

Now, he was supposed to be taken to the maximum-security prison outside of Kabul called Pul-e-Charkhi, but apparently, due to the intercession of his American attorney, the Afghan authorities agreed to fly him downtown, where he was — he spent time with their attorney general. Last night, he went to see President Hamid Karzai. And then, late last night, he was released into the custody of his uncle.

SHARIF ABDEL KOUDDOUS: We want to turn to Jawad in his own words. He, as you explained, just returned home yesterday, and he explained some of the — his almost six years at Guantanamo and the ordeal that he spent in prison. This is Mohamed Jawad.

    MOHAMED JAWAD: [translated] There was a lot of oppression when I was in Guantanamo. And this inhuman action was not for one day, one week or one month; I was oppressed for all the time I was there until I was released. They humiliated all the prisoners very badly. They would insult our religion and our Holy Koran. They were insulting to us and behaving in quite an inhuman way. They tortured prisoners very badly and did not allow prisoners to sleep and did not give us enough food. A lot of prisoners got sick. The treatment was very inhuman, which is against the law of all countries, and that they knew that I was underage, and they didn’t care about my age, either.

SHARIF ABDEL KOUDDOUS: That’s Mohamed Jawad talking about his ordeal at Guantanamo. Jonathan Landay, you just spoke to him. Can you talk more about his mental state?

JONATHAN LANDAY: Yeah, he seems — I spent time with him last night. I was there when he got home, and I spent some time with him this morning. And he seems thoroughly withdrawn. He complains of headaches. He speaks in a very low, soft voice.

He is being looked after very carefully by his uncle and the man who was his father’s guerrilla commander during the war against the Soviets. His father is dead, and so he’s being looked after fairly carefully by these gentlemen and by elders of his tribe.

I don’t think he really wanted to do interviews today. I think a lot of people were pressing to be able to speak to him, and so he was made available. But, you know, it was my impression from last night and again from this morning that he really is somewhat withdrawn. He’s very quiet, and I think he just wants to be left alone.

AMY GOODMAN: Jonathan, can you talk about his lawyer, Marine Major Eric Montalvo? He flew with him to Afghanistan?

JONATHAN LANDAY: No, he did not. In fact, he was refused permission by the Pentagon to fly with him to Afghanistan. In fact, Mr. Montalvo told me that he had to basically guess when his client was going to reach Afghanistan. He showed me an email from the Pentagon that was telling him that Jawad’s — Mr. Jawad’s arrival here was classified. And he was quite indignant about that. He was quite upset about that.

Also, he had asked the Pentagon to provide him with the airfare to come here and ensure that his client was not immediately put into jail here in Afghanistan and that indeed the Afghan government upheld its agreement not to re-jail him once he got here. They refused to pay his airfare. They refused to pay the airfare of other — two other members of his legal team, his military legal team, that he wanted to bring along. He and his translator flew basically for thirty-six hours straight to get here.

And they told me that on arrival at the airport yesterday afternoon, they called the attorney general’s office and asked, “So, where is he? We want to see him.” And they got the word from the attorney general’s office that, “Can you be here in half an hour?” So they had to go straight to the attorney general’s office. And, indeed, by that point, Jawad was already in downtown Kabul.

AMY GOODMAN: So, Major Montalvo, it looks like, may well have prevented Jawad from being put in an Afghan prison.

JONATHAN LANDAY: Well, actually, under the Afghan process for Guantanamo detainees who are released, they are generally taken straight to Pul-e-Charkhi prison. There’s a special place where they are — special block where they are put, they are processed out of the system and then released. But that usually takes some time.

We were expecting — I spent some time with the prison head, the director of the prison, yesterday waiting for Mr. Jawad to come back, and he was expecting Mr. Jawad to be brought directly to the prison. And he was expecting then to release him immediately and then put him in a car and send him downtown to the attorney general’s office. And, in fact, he never actually made it out to the prison, and it’s very likely that it was Mr. Montalvo’s intercession with the attorney general that prevented him from being taken out to the prison.

SHARIF ABDEL KOUDDOUS: Now, about the elections, Jonathan Landay, today, later today, the Afghan Election Commission is expected to release partial results, maybe ten percent of the results, with further results coming out after that. There’s been widespread allegations of voter fraud, voter intimidation, violence. Talk about what you found on the ground there.

JONATHAN LANDAY: Well, it’s very hard for us to have found anything on the ground, because, quite frankly, leaving any of the main urban centers and going out into the countryside, in a lot of the countryside, particularly in the east and the south, was just too hazardous. There, in fact, according to a senior US intelligence source that I spoke to a couple of days after the election, they counted in excess of 500 violent incidences — incidents on the day before and the day of the election, which is the highest number of incidents they’ve had on any two days, I believe, since the fall of the Taliban and the return of the pro-West government here in 2001, 2002. So it was quite violent out in the countryside.

Now, I just came from a news conference that Abdullah Abdullah, the former foreign minister and the closest challenger to President Karzai, held at his residence, where he repeated his charges of massive fraud, massive widespread fraud across the country, and produced what he said was in fact evidence of fraud taking place. And this evidence included a pad of unused ballot papers that had — all of which had been picked up in advance for Mr. Karzai and stamped with the stamp of the election — independent — the so-called Independent Election Commission, that is only supposed to be stamped once this piece of paper goes into a ballot box. And he produced an entire unused pad of these ballots.

He also produced video phone — I mean, telephone — sorry, cell phone videos of what he said were scenes in which we saw police apparently overseeing the stuffing a ballot box. We saw what appeared to be the staff of the Independent Election Commission in a polling station ticking off votes for Mr. Karzai on sheaths of unused ballot papers. We saw one of what’s purported to be a staff of the Independent Election Commission putting stamps on sheaths of unused ballots that shouldn’t have been stamped until they went into — ’til just before they went into the ballot box.

And so — and at the same time, Mr. Abdullah, who has been talking about this fraud, you know, his allegations of fraud, for quite a long time, basically it sounded to me really that hardened up on his accusations and hardened up on his stance. He said that he was not prepared to accept any kind of deal, any kind of negotiations. And this being Afghanistan, those usually are what take place to work out political logjams. He said he would not do so, that he was not going to stand by and allow the results of a fraudulent election to be made official. He said he would not allow that to happen. And those are words — that is rhetoric that is much harsher than he has used in the past. And essentially, it sounded like, for the first time, he was throwing down the gauntlet and basically saying — warning that there was going to — there would be — he would react. And he didn’t say how. He also, I have to say, emphasized that Afghans should remain calm, but nevertheless there was a new tone in his voice regarding his allegations and regarding his determination, as he put it, to make sure that this fraud, as he put it, did not stand.

SHARIF ABDEL KOUDDOUS: And the Obama administration has praised this election. President Obama himself said it was an important step towards Afghans taking a control of their future. Do you see this election as legitimate?

JONATHAN LANDAY: I think it’s — there’s only one thing we know about this election, really, and that is that people went out and voted. How many people went out and voted? We don’t know. Where the vote turnout was really low, we’re pretty sure it was extremely low in the southern provinces where the Taliban-led insurgency is centered. But what that number was, we don’t know.

Any percentages that people are bandying about are really — are really a bunch of red herrings, and that’s because nobody knows how many registered voters there are in Afghanistan. There were said to be 17 million, but most people believe that that number is way off. And we also know that there were millions of duplicate and fraudulent voter registration cards out there. We know that a lot of women did not vote, is a very low — is believed to be a very low turnout among women. And so, when we hear percentages of turnout, when we hear percentages of votes, really, we don’t know what those percentages are, because nobody knows how many registered voters there are. There’s absolutely no doubt that there was fraud. There’s absolutely no doubt that there was voter intimidation. The question is, to what extent? What was the extent of the vote? What was the extent of the intimidation and the fraud? These are questions that are going to be very hard to answer.

As far as the international community’s reaction to this, and President Obama’s, in particular, I think what they were trying to do was praise the Afghan people who did go out and vote in the face of threats by the Taliban. A lot of pre-election attacks and violence by the Taliban and intimidation by the Taliban and very, very widespread violence — at least it appeared to be so in the south and other parts in the east by the Taliban and other insurgent groups to try and block this election.

The problem with that is that, here in Afghanistan, when you talk, you know, to ordinary Afghans, expressions of “Well, this is a step forward, this is progress” make it sound as if, oh, the international community is endorsing this election as being successful. And that carries very dangerous seeds for the United States and the international community, because if it turns out that in fact this election was fraught with fraud, was fraught with violence, and was in fact not legitimate, well, the United States and its partners are going to be seen as endorsing an illegitimate election and possibly even being portrayed as being a part — part and parcel of the illegitimacy, and that puts the United States troops and the international forces here in a very, very difficult position.

AMY GOODMAN: Speaking of which, Jonathan Landay, the US military says an improvised explosive device has killed four American service members in southern Afghanistan. The deaths bring to forty-one the number of US troops killed in Afghanistan this month, the second deadliest month in the country since the 2001 US invasion, and the month is not even done. Last month, a record forty-four US troops died. The attitude of the Afghan people to the presence of the US troops there?

JONATHAN LANDAY: Well, I think it varies a great deal, because, you know, the troops in a lot of part — in many parts of Afghanistan keep a very low profile. You hardly see them at all on the streets. You don’t see them virtually at all on the streets of Kabul. Kabul, for the most part, has been very secure, except for the lead-up to the election, when there were two fairly serious car bombings.

But for the most part, if you talk to some people here and people in parts of the country which are not being wracked by the insurgency and by US bombs and counterattacks, you know, they don’t like the presence of the foreign troops, but they also don’t like the Taliban, and I think still in many parts of the country they would prefer to see the Americans stay here for right now, because they’re not in the position, the Afghan government itself is in no position to defend itself. It just isn’t.

But then, if you go to parts of the country where there has been a lot of combat operations, where the Taliban has been extremely active, where the insurgency is very active, then I think you’ll find that people are very unhappy with the presence of the foreign troops, particularly because of the high number of civilian casualties, although I have to say that those seem to have come down since the new US commander here, General Stanley McChrystal, has issued new guidelines to US troops that seem to beginning to have had the effect of beginning to minimize casualties.

The other thing, of course, is that while the international forces have been a source of civilian casualties, the Taliban and related insurgent groups have been the biggest causes of civilian casualties here in Afghanistan. And that’s a point that tends to be lost when you have these large civilian casualties being caused by foreign forces.

AMY GOODMAN: Jonathan Landay, I want to thank you for being with us, national security and intelligence correspondent for McClatchy Newspapers, joining us on the phone from Kabul, Afghanistan.

This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. When we come back from break, we’ll look at the escalation of the war in Afghanistan with Harvard Professor Walt. Stay with us.

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