AN AFGHAN ALLY
A number of you have asked about my duty in Afghanistan. In 2011, I deployed to Kabul to help the Afghans rebuild their country. I served as the Chief, Rule of Law, which meant that I wrote the military plans and policies to support the Afghan civilian justice sector, from their Supreme Court all the way down to informal jirgas (influential tribal councils) at the village level. This involved coordinating efforts from the international community, including efforts from partner countries; supervising military officers detailed for duty in several Afghan government ministries; meeting with high-level Afghan officials; and promoting positive legislation in the Afghan Legislature. I went on 100 missions “outside the wire” in Kabul, Bagram, and Kandahar and earned a Bronze Star.
Mr. Ghaznavi, an Afghan civilian, served as my interpreter for many of these missions. He had worked for the US in different capacities for a number of years. As I was preparing to leave, he asked me if I would sponsor him and his family for a Special Immigrant Visa (SIV). This visa is reserved for Afghans whose lives or families had been threatened because of their work for the US. When I asked him about it, he told me that the Taliban had kidnapped his sister to try to get a ransom, and he had been kidnapped by the Afghan police to try to extract information about our operations. Of course, I agreed to sponsor him, thinking that it would be a slam dunk case to get Mr. Ghaznavi and his family a visa, given all that they had gone through.
Unfortunately, we discovered that it was not so. The State Department had a long history of denying these visas, even in exceptionally meritorious cases like Mr. Ghaznavi’s, because they were afraid of losing their local workforce. It took three years of lobbying the relevant agencies and an op ed in the Washington Post before he was approved to come to the US.
My proudest moment from Afghanistan was not my Bronze Star medal ceremony – it was picking Mr. Ghaznavi, his wife, and their 5 children up at the airport when they arrived.
Contrary to the State Department’s concerns, Mr. Ghaznavi has since then volunteered to go back to Afghanistan to continue his service after his family was safe. Two of his daughters are attending college, and all the adults in the family are working. They are all eligible to become US citizens next year.
Thanks to my experience on deployments overseas, I acquired a deeper appreciation of law making at home. Mr. Ghaznavi and his family taught me a lot about the importance of rule of law, and the ways it works in different settings. In addition, my military and civilian work as a lawyer gives me a sturdy foundation for developing new laws and public policies. Serving as a court advocate for children and the elderly and for good health programs in Salem added insight to my understanding of how state and local governments work at the practical level.