DTCI: Commitment to the rule of law is US’s greatest export

Back to TopCommentsE-mailPrintBookmark and Share

Christopher Lee DTCIOur convoy departed at 0400 in eight up-armored Humvees, two Ford Rangers and a Mahindra jeep. Heading north, we passed Bagram Airbase and began the ascent up into the Hindu-Kush Mountains. The Afghan summer heat had melted the snow that had blocked passage through the Salang Tunnel at roughly 11,000 feet.

My interpreter, “A.J.”; a JAG officer (and fellow Hoosier), Hal Johnston; and I accompanied a platoon plus in their mission to relieve a similar platoon stationed at the newly constructed regional command just outside of Mazar-i-Sharif. Hal had requested to accompany me with the infantry platoon in armored guntrucks.

In the fall, five months earlier and before the snow, the infantry platoon we were traveling to replace had a “small” traffic accident. Even a small accident with an up-armored Humvee can, and did, cause injury to a passenger in an Afghan civilian vehicle. Wisely, the platoon leader had taken a picture of the injured passenger and saved the GPS coordinates of the accident. He also reported to me and the rest of the command that the accident was indeed the fault of the U.S. Army.

As we reached the coordinates, we pulled our convoy off the dirt road, set security and started our search for the victim who had been injured five months previously. A.J., in perfect Dari, showed the picture to several locals who replied that they knew the gentleman and would go and bring him to us immediately. Three hours later a small, frail, very nervous man matching the picture emerged from the back of a beat-up white and yellow Toyota Corolla. As we approached the Afghan who had been summoned by the Americans, I noticed that he was shaking … with fear.

At the time, in Afghanistan, “fault” and “responsibility” had a very different meaning from what we understand in the United States. If the other driver was an employee, distant relative or friend of a warlord, the accident was your fault. There were no juries, lawyers or fact finders. Facts of the accident did not matter. What mattered was your position, status or relationship.

To this poor Afghan who had been hit by a U.S. Humvee five months previously, the Americans were the warlords. In his mind, we certainly had returned to find him and recover from him, and his village, the damage he had done to our Humvee.

I asked the man through A.J., “Were you involved in an accident with U.S. troops last fall?” The man shook with fear so much that the other Afghans around him propped him up so he would not fall. He nodded affirmatively.

Hal, the JAG officer, stepped forward and said, “I have come here on behalf of the United States.” The Afghan’s face was pale, and he clearly anticipated that Hal’s next words would reveal his fate. Instead, Hal reached into his field expedient briefcase and pulled out a handful of Afghan money.

“We are here to make it right.” As Hal counted off the payment into the shaking and dirty Afghan hand, I saw a face I will never forget. On the bearded and weathered Afghan, whose eyes were now tearing in disbelief, I witnessed the face of justice. At that moment, we were no longer tyrants. We were there to ensure justice was served. This Afghan, and his entire village, stared in disbelief. Revealed to them, for the first time, were the warlords taking responsibility and attempting to provide justice.

The United States shines like a beacon of light to the world – not just because we possess the most capable military in the history of mankind – because each American is accountable to laws that are equally enforced and independently adjudicated. The adoption of the rule of law into the American way of life is distinct and envied by much of the world. Certainty in the application of laws, impartial procedure and an independently determined outcome assure liberty and are necessary ingredients in a free society. As Americans, we too often take for granted the vital and necessary role the American approach to the rule of law plays in maintaining the American way of life. Americans, and more specifically attorneys, should guard no differently against an executive that picks and chooses which laws to enforce, than against a judiciary that inconsistently applies our laws. Truly, the single greatest quality the United States can export is our commitment to the rule of law.•


Christopher Lee is a partner in Kahn Dees Donovan & Kahn and is a director of the Defense Trial Counsel of Indiana. The opinions in this article are those of the author.


Post a comment to this story

We reserve the right to remove any post that we feel is obscene, profane, vulgar, racist, sexually explicit, abusive, or hateful.
You are legally responsible for what you post and your anonymity is not guaranteed.
Posts that insult, defame, threaten, harass or abuse other readers or people mentioned in Indiana Lawyer editorial content are also subject to removal. Please respect the privacy of individuals and refrain from posting personal information.
No solicitations, spamming or advertisements are allowed. Readers may post links to other informational websites that are relevant to the topic at hand, but please do not link to objectionable material.
We may remove messages that are unrelated to the topic, encourage illegal activity, use all capital letters or are unreadable.

Messages that are flagged by readers as objectionable will be reviewed and may or may not be removed. Please do not flag a post simply because you disagree with it.

Sponsored by
Subscribe to Indiana Lawyer
  1. I commend Joe for standing up to this tyrant attorney! You ask why? Well I’m one of David Steele victims. I was in desperate need of legal help to protect my child, David saw an opportunity, and he demanded I pay him $3000. Cash. As I received motions and orders from court he did nothing! After weeks of emails asking him to address the legal issues, he responded by saying he was “on vacation “and I should be so lucky to have “my attorney” reply. Finally after lie on top of lie I asked for a full refund, which he refused. He then sent me “bills” for things he never did, such as, his appearance in the case and later claimed he withdrew. He never filed one document / motion for my case! When I finally demanded he refund my money he then turn to threats which scared my family for our lives. It seem unreal we couldn’t believe this guy. I am now over $100,000 in debt digging out of the legal mess he caused my family. Later I was finally able to hire another law office. I met Joe and we worked diligently on my case. I soon learn Joe had a passion for helping people. As anyone who has been through a legal battle it is exhausting. Joe was always more than happy to help or address an issue. Joe was knowledgeable about all my concerns at the same time he was able to reduce the stress and anxieties of my case. He would stay late and come in early, he always went the extra mile to help in any way he could. I can only imagine what Joe and his family has been through, my prayers go out to him and all the victims.

  2. Steele did more than what is listed too. He purposely sought out to ruin me, calling potential employers and then lied about me alleging all kinds of things including kidnapping. None of his allegations were true. If you are in need of an ethical and very knowledgeable family law paralegal, perhaps someone could post their contact information. Ethics cannot be purchased, either your paralegal has them or they do not.

  3. This is ridiculous. Most JDs not practicing law don't know squat to justify calling themselves a lawyer. Maybe they should try visiting the inside of a courtroom before they go around calling themselves lawyers. This kind of promotional BS just increases the volume of people with JDs that are underqualified thereby dragging all the rest of us down likewise.

  4. I think it is safe to say that those Hoosier's with the most confidence in the Indiana judicial system are those Hoosier's who have never had the displeasure of dealing with the Hoosier court system.

  5. I have an open CHINS case I failed a urine screen I have since got clean completed IOP classes now in after care passed home inspection my x sister in law has my children I still don't even have unsupervised when I have been clean for over 4 months my x sister wants to keep the lids for good n has my case working with her I just discovered n have proof that at one of my hearing dcs case worker stated in court to the judge that a screen was dirty which caused me not to have unsupervised this was at the beginning two weeks after my initial screen I thought the weed could have still been in my system was upset because they were suppose to check levels n see if it was going down since this was only a few weeks after initial instead they said dirty I recently requested all of my screens from redwood because I take prescriptions that will show up n I was having my doctor look at levels to verify that matched what I was prescripted because dcs case worker accused me of abuseing when I got my screens I found out that screen I took that dcs case worker stated in court to judge that caused me to not get granted unsupervised was actually negative what can I do about this this is a serious issue saying a parent failed a screen in court to judge when they didn't please advise