| ||Afghan Death Sentence Stirs Debate|
The Wall Street Journal
By Nathan Hodge and Habib Khan Totakhil
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A recent death sentence for an Afghan soldier who killed five French troops is generating controversy in Afghanistan, with insurgents hailing the man as a hero, and human-rights advocates urging clemency.
Abdul Basir was convicted Sunday by a military court of killing five French soldiers on a military base in the eastern Kapisa province in January, according to a statement Wednesday by Afghanistan's defense ministry. Spokesman Maj. Gen. Zahir Azimi said Mr. Basir would be shot dead.
Mr. Basir, whose rank wasn't given, was convicted of opening fire on unarmed French soldiers while they were training on their base. Four of them were killed outright and 15 others were injured, with one subsequently dying of his wounds. It was one of the worst such "green-on-blue" attacks—incidents in which Afghan troops turn their weapons on U.S. and coalition allies—since the war began.
Under Afghan military law, Mr. Basir can appeal his conviction.
Advocacy group Human Rights Watch urged Afghan President Hamid Karzai to commute the death sentence. Afghanistan's justice system "remains weak and compromised, in spite of over 10 years of donor assistance," the group said in a statement. "It relies heavily on confessions, including some obtained through torture. Use of physical evidence is rudimentary. The independence and impartiality of judges is often undermined, especially in high-profile cases such as this one."
On a visit to Kabul on Wednesday, French Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian declined to comment directly on the court's verdict, saying it was a matter of "Afghan justice."
However, Mr. Le Drian reiterated France's long-standing opposition to the death penalty.
The January killings in Kapisa have prompted France to accelerate plans for the withdrawal of its combat troops.
Those forces now are scheduled to depart by the end of the year, well ahead of a 2014 deadline for the withdrawal of most international troops. A smaller French noncombat contingent focused on training Afghan forces will remain in the country longer.
In a statement on Wednesday, the Taliban praised Mr. Basir for his "magnificent act," saying that the judges and prosecutors involved in the trial would be targeted for assassination.
Such remarks appear designed to tap into Afghan resentment of foreign troops. When Col. Ahmad Gul, an Afghan air force officer, killed eight U.S. Air Force service members and a contractor last year, he was hailed by some as a hero and posters hanging in the Kabul district where he lived celebrated his martyrdom. As many as 2,000 Afghans attended his funeral in his home village to show their appreciation for killing "infidels and occupiers." The incident, the Taliban added, would "live in the country's history forever."
The statement also compared Mr. Basir with Wazir Akbar Khan, an Afghan national hero who led a revolt against the British in the 1840s. It said the "puppet regime"—the phrase the Taliban uses to describe Mr. Karzai's administration—had convicted the soldier to "please its foreign masters."
Write to Nathan Hodge at email@example.com