Trial and Tribulations

Naim Amini fled Afghanistan to build a new life, a life now lost in the translation.

The voice in his ear kept whispering, "This is only a formality." It whispered other things, but they were mostly gibberish. The one phrase he could understand was "This is only a formality." The voice whispered it while he worried whether the judge would ever ask him to explain his innocence. It whispered while the prosecutor branded him an evil man. It whispered right up until he felt the cold steel of the handcuffs on his wrists and he was led away to prison, while his daughters wept and his sons shouted. "This is only a formality," the voice whispered. "This is only a formality."


The call from dispatch was for a cold sexual assault, "cold" meaning not in progress. Deputy Michelle Carnahan of the Douglas County Sheriff's Department responded to a two-story tract home in Highlands Ranch. She was met at the door by Tamara, a 29-year-old hairdresser from the Ukraine. It was Wednesday morning, September 2, 1998. According to a report Carnahan filed that afternoon, Tamara said that her ten-year-old daughter, Tasha (not her real name), had just revealed that a friend's father had sexually molested her earlier that summer.

 
 
Heartfelt appeal: Attorney Paul Grant has requested a new trial for Naim Amini -- a trial he'd understand.
John Johnston
Heartfelt appeal: Attorney Paul Grant has requested a new trial for Naim Amini -- a trial he'd understand.

Tasha was upstairs in her room. Carnahan asked Tamara to call her down.


Naim Amini was born in 1942 in Mazar-e-Sharif, Afghanistan. He was the best student in his sixth-grade class. The army came for him that year. The army came for all twelve-year-old-boys who were the best students. Amini was drafted, then enrolled in a military school in the capital city of Kabul, eight hours away by mountain roads. He graduated from military school, then military college, then officers' school. He was a lieutenant colonel in the Afghan army in 1979 when the Soviets invaded, took over and went to war with the fundamentalist Muslim rebels, the Mujahadeen.

Embroiled in a bloody guerrilla action, the Soviets in 1982 lowered the minimum draft age from eighteen to twelve and raised the maximum from forty to fifty. They put Amini in charge of overseeing this new draft in the region of Mazar-e-Sharif.

Strangers delivered letters to Amini, a devout Muslim. The letters were from the Mujahadeen: "You are one of us. Here are the names of people we do not want you to draft, because they are our fighters. Send us information about how many fighters the army is asking you for, and where they are going to be sent."

Amini did not comply. One winter morning at dawn, men with guns came to his house and took him away.


Deputy Carnahan sat with Tamara at the kitchen table while Tasha laid it all out. She and her mother had come to Colorado from Ukraine in 1996 and had lived in Winter Park until May 1998, when they'd moved to Highlands Ranch.

In July, she'd started sixth grade at Coyote Creek Elementary. During the first week of school, she made friends with a girl in her class from Afghanistan, also ten years old, named Laila Amini. Her new friend lived nearby, and Tasha had spent the night at Laila's house several times that summer, beginning in late July. On the first night she stayed over, Tasha said, she and Laila were playing Go Fish on Laila's bed when Laila's father came into the room and lay on the bed between them.

Tasha said that she was lying on her side, with her back to Laila's father, when he started massaging her shoulders and then slid a hand around until it rested on her breast. She told the deputy that his hand was on top of her nightshirt, not on her bare skin, and that he kept talking to her, telling her not to go to sleep. She said he spoke "very broken English."

Tasha said she didn't ask him to stop touching her breast, that he just stopped after a while and then got off the bed and left the room. She said his hand was on her breast for about five minutes.

Carnahan asked Tasha if that was the only time her friend's father had touched her in a way that was bad, and she said no, there had been two others.


The Mujahadeen moved Amini from village to village for two weeks, under armed guard, with a vicious dog chained outside his window at night. Finally a Mujahadeen leader told him: "Don't worry. We're not going to kill you, because we're in need of you and you're part of us. But from now on, we need you to do what we say." They let him go, and he walked to the nearest village, then caught a bus home.

His wife had reported his kidnapping, and when he showed up back in Mazar-e-Sharif, safe and sound, he was interrogated by the Soviets. They wanted to know if he had agreed to collaborate with the Mujahadeen. He denied that he had. The Soviets transferred him to another region. Strangers delivered more letters: "We know where you are. Remember what we said."

Caught between sides, Amini fled. For a week, he and his wife and their three children traveled under cover of night by horse and carriage, then on foot, until they crossed the border into Pakistan and then into India. They lived as refugees in New Delhi for eight years, occupying a tiny apartment, scraping by on a United Nations stipend. The Soviets lost the war in Afghanistan, and the country's new leaders began sending Amini letters, demanding that he return from India to face charges of treason.

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