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Case of Jailed Briton Reviewed

Karzai orders special commission to look into case of alleged British killer.
By Rahimullah Samander

The mysterious case of a British man accused of shooting dead two Afghan men in Kabul’s top hotel is to be re-examined on the orders of President Hamid Karzai, IWPR has learned.


IWPR has seen a July 31 presidential decree ordering the appointment of a commission led by the ministry of justice together with officials from the supreme court, attorney general’s office and interior ministry to look into the affair.


The British government has urged the Afghan authorities to ensure that Berry receive a fair trial and, at one point, called for him to released on compassionate medical grounds because of his deteriorating health.


The attorney general’s office, which was in charge of preparing the case, had recommended that 38-year-old Colin Berry, who was shot in the stomach during the February 25 incident at the Intercontinental Hotel, face two counts of murder.


Its report based on investigations by police and intelligence officials claimed that he was involved in the smuggling of antiquities and had shot the men after a row.


Berry, who has been admitted to hospital several times recently with problems he says were the result of severe torture, is currently refusing to cooperate with authorities.


In an interview at the Kabul detention centre, where he is incarcerated in a large cell with 28 men, the prisoner, who has lost over twenty kilos while in custody, told IWPR that he was a former member of the British special forces, the SAS, and was in the country at the behest of the London authorities, studying the drug trade and the disarmament of rebel groups.


IWPR has been unable to verify Berry’s claim that he was an ex-SAS member, while a British foreign office spokesperson said he was in Afghanistan in a private capacity.


Berry claims that it was two members of the American Central Intelligence Agency, CIA, that killed the men in his room at the Intercontinental Hotel after one of the Afghans had pulled out a gun and shot him in the stomach during an angry discussion.


A group of men seen entering the room immediately after the incident and removing the accused along with his luggage were further members of the CIA, according to Berry.


The men subsequently dropped him outside the Italian Emergency Hospital in Kabul and drove off never to be seen again, he claimed.


A spokesperson for US coalition forces approached by IWPR said that they had “no visibility” on the incident.


The handing over of the Berry case from the attorney general to a commission headed by the ministry of justice suggests that Kabul has taken on board Britain’s concerns over the case.


But the switch also highlights an emerging power struggle between the two Kabul institutions.


Under the 1964 constitution, the justice ministry oversaw the attorney-general’s office, but the latter became an independent institution during communist times.


The Bonn agreement stipulates that the current authorities follow the 1964 constitution, and at last year’s Loya Jirga Karzai pledged to restore the original arrangement - but has so far failed to do so.


The interior ministry recently told the government newspaper Arman-e-Milli that the activities of the attorney general’s office were illegal. The latter, in turn, has expressed its fury at “interference” in the Berry case.


“We don’t know why the justice minister is interested in this case. If it had shortcomings, the court should not have accepted it. Let the justice minister do what he wants,” said the deputy attorney-general, Mohammad Zia Noorkhel.


The presidential press office refused to comment on its role in the matter but IWPR has seen correspondence signed by Karzai ordering the new commission to re-examine the Berry case.


The accused had originally said that he was an engineer and had shot the two men when they tried to rob him, but he now claims this was simply a cover story to try and buy time.


In his interview with IWPR, Berry, dressed in a traditional shalwar kameez with the beginnings of a grey and white beard, spoke sarcastically about the case being assembled against him.


“They read out the accusation: I was in the room with two men involved in antique smuggling, got drunk, beat them, shot them, shot myself, my private army broke down the door. It was such a great plan,” he said.


In a deadpan manner, he then claimed that he had been horrifically tortured while questioned by the intelligence services of the interior ministry in March.


As a result of electric shocks, he says, one of his testicles swelled to “the size of a mango” and tests now show that he may have testicular cancer.


IWPR asked the deputy interior minister Hilaluddin Hilal to respond to the torture allegations, but he refused to comment.


Berry also claimed that he had been recently beaten inside the detention centre by unknown assailants.


A prison official confirmed that the accused had been taken to hospital twice since arriving on April 1, once for a six-week period. Nobody at the Emergency Hospital would comment on what was described as a “political case”.


Berry says he has been told that an appeal for clemency on health grounds may come through soon, however, he insists he will not be kept quiet in the interim.


“Enough’s enough. I’ve been shot, tortured, beaten…isn’t it time [British prime minister] Tony Blair done [sic] something?”


Rahimullah Samander is an IWPR editor/reporter in Kabul.