Trial and Tribulations

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

There are two major languages spoken by natives of Afghanistan: Pashtun, which is more widespread, and Dari, which is a distant country cousin of Farsi. Amini grew up speaking Dari. He and Maroofi could barely comprehend one another in normal conversation, he says, and once the trial was under way, Maroofi gave up on simultaneous translation. "He kept telling me, 'Don't worry about this, it is only a formality, it is only a formality,'" Amini remembers. "He said, 'You don't need to know this now. It is only a formality. I will explain it later.' But later never came."

William Royce has served as chief of Dari service for the Voice of America, the government's international broadcasting network, since 1997. From 1984 until 1997, Royce was the VOA's chief of Farsi service. He studied both dialects while pursuing his Ph.D. in Near Eastern studies at Princeton University and taught Farsi at the University of Arizona, where he was a professor in Near Eastern history.

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.

"The VOA has two separate services and separate staff to do language transmissions to speakers of Farsi in Iran and Dari in Afghanistan," Royce says. "We would never use a Farsi speaker to do a radio transmission in Dari or vice-versa. Based on my experience in the two languages, there are significant differences between them, especially on the spoken level. I believe it would be almost impossible for a Farsi speaker to serve as an effective translator into Dari."

Opening arguments commenced at 3:05 p.m. on January 5, 2000. Prosecutor Rema Salaymeh briefly summarized the three accusations. "It was out of fear of these incidents and that so much more could happen that [Tasha] finally told her mother," she said. Cole told the jury that his client had been falsely accused for motives unknown. "I will be unable to show you a clear motive for falsification," he said. "I will be unable to establish that [Tasha] had anything against my client."

Opening arguments from both sides consumed a scant twelve minutes. Court was adjourned for the day.

The next morning, Salaymeh called Tasha as the prosecution's first witness. "Was there ever a time when you were at your friend's house spending the night that her father touched you in a way that made you feel uncomfortable or embarrassed?" she asked.

"Yes," Tasha said.

"Do you remember that time, or those times?"

"Not really."

Nearly a year and a half had passed since the first night Tasha stayed over at the Amini house -- long enough, maybe, for a young girl's traumatic memory to lose focus. Except that with a little coaxing from Salaymeh, Tasha appeared to regain her memory. She told the jury that during the first assault, she'd been lying on her stomach on her friend's bed and that Amini had come into the room and had put his hand under her shirt and touched her bare breast. She said his hand stayed on her breast for about ten seconds before she told him to stop and he did.

Her story had changed once she was on the witness stand.

There were four glaring inconsistencies between her testimony under oath and her initial reports to Carnahan and Ruppart:

She first had said that she was lying on her side, with her back to Amini; at trial, she testified that she was lying on her stomach.

She had said that Amini's hand remained outside her clothing; at trial, she testified that his hand was against her bare skin.

She had said the assault lasted about five minutes; at trial, she testified that it was more like ten seconds.

She had said that she'd remained silent during the assault; at trial, she testified that she told Amini to stop.

Tasha's testimony regarding the second assault better matched her initial accusation. But she drew a blank on the third assault, the one during which Amini had supposedly pulled her into a hug from behind and grabbed both of her breasts. She now testified she had no memory whatsoever of such an incident.

Cole's cross-examination was succinct. He asked Tasha if she had willingly gone back to spend the night at Amini's house three or four times after Amini had first allegedly touched her breast. She said she had. Once the two girls were alone in Laila's room, he asked, had Laila wondered why Tasha had been telling her father to stop? No, Tasha replied, Amini's daughter had said nothing.

The prosecution's next witness was Tasha's mother. She testified that Tasha had first told her about Amini touching her a few days before she'd reported it to the sheriff's office. They had been spending the weekend at their house in Winter Park, she said, when Tasha sort of blurted out that Amini had been giving her massages. "I asked, 'What kind of massages?' and then she told me everything," Tamara testified.

Under cross-examination, Tasha's mother remembered that Tasha and Laila had been fighting at school shortly before Tasha came forward with her accusations. Amini's daughter had been teasing Tasha about having head lice and had encouraged other students to make fun of her, Tamara said. Cole pinched out this information, then never mentioned it again, letting a potential motive for fabrication fly away like a thread in the wind.

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