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Verdict clear to Afghan officials: Evidence-based operations vital

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The nondescript water bottle found among the items at the scene of the simulated crime scene during the Evidence-Based Operations Seminar here Dec. 17 didn’t appear to be anything more than a piece of trash.

But when an investigative specialist brushed the plastic container for fingerprints, the bottle’s importance became apparent as a clear image of a print emerged. The bottle was clearly a key piece of evidence in the simulated scene and would solidify the case against the alleged – albeit imaginary – criminal in court.

The simulated crime scene and review of proper evidence collection procedures was one of the highlights of the seminar that included a dozen senior Afghan police investigators, counter-terrorism officials and judicial-system prosecutors. The event also included a forensic lab tour and a roundtable discussion on evidence needed for prosecution.

Col. Ramatullah Sediqi, the 404th Zone’s Criminal Investigative Division chief and the highest ranking Afghan official in attendance, emphasized the importance of evidence-based operations to his colleagues.

“Let the evidence prove guilt or innocence,” Sediqi said. “Let the evidence decide the verdict. A prosecutor should have no problems when there is evidence.

“Evidence creates level justice for all people.”

The seminar was the second evidence-based conference hosted by the Third Infantry Division’s legal staff at the airfield. The Dec. 17 conference included officials from Uruzgan and Kandahar provinces; several dozen additional officials were set to attend but inclement weather curtailed attendance. The initial seminar in November included about 15 officials from Zabul province.

The majority of the Afghan attendees at the seminars are senior officials with the Afghan Uniform Police and the National Directorate of Security.

“These seminars emphasize why good evidence is so important in court to a variety of types of officials, including judges and prosecutors,” said Col. Randall Bagwell, the Third Infantry Division’s staff judge advocate general.

The seminar also gave Afghan officials a rare opportunity to visit the Afghanistan Captured Material Exploitation Lab on Kandahar Airfield. The ACME lab analyzes and examines evidence collected at Afghan crime scenes. The tour of the ACME lab included a briefing on the myriad of improvised explosive devices used in Afghanistan and how the IEDs reveal clues and details about their maker.
After touring the ACME lab, fingerprinting specialists reviewed proper printing procedures with the officials as well as tips on other evidence-collection resources including photography and sketching.

The simulated crime scene reiterated the importance of fingerprint procedures when the infamous plastic bottle revealed its clear-cut fingerprint. The seminar concluded with roundtable discussions led by Sediqi, Brig. Gen. Mark Brewer, Regional Command-South’s deputy commanding general of force development, and Capt. Amanda Presson, the Rule of Law chief for RC-S.

“Despite the uncooperative weather, the Afghans present at the seminar were able to discuss best practices in their respective provinces concerning evidence collection as well as view some of the components that establish a strong case file,” Presson said. “Hopefully, these individuals will continue the dialogue that began today even after the seminar is complete.”

Presson noted every subject broached during the seminar was sustainable for the foreseeable future in Afghanistan, including fingerprint analysis, even though the capability may move to Kabul or Herat, where the forensic labs are set to be located.

“The foundation of a case file is built upon sworn statements from witnesses and crime scene sketches,” Presson said. “Training Afghans how to do these things and then the Afghans in turn teaching other Afghans is ultimately sustainable.

“These basic skills enable a prosecutor to win the case even if forensic technology is not available.”

Lt. Col Gulab Wardak, the deputy commander of investigations in Uruzgan province, said the conference proved extremely worthwhile.

“The seminar was really useful for us,” Wardak said. “Today, we were reminded of the steps and processes involved in evidence-based collection and operations. It was a good overview.”

The officials who were unable to attend Dec. 17 due to the inclement weather will be invited to attend a future seminar on KAF.

Article by Sgt. 1st Class Erick Studenicka, 117th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment