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Reporters on the Job

Sharia but No Sword: When staff writer Scott Baldauf arrived at Afghanistan's Supreme Court for an interview with Chief Justice Fazel Hadi Shinwari, he had a feeling that he had been there before. In fact, he had.

On Sept. 7, 2001, Scott was among a gaggle of reporters squashed into a courtroom that was run at the time by the Taliban government. The Taliban had arrested eight foreign staffers of Shelter Now, a Christian aid group, for proselytizing among Afghan Muslims in Kabul.

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"At the time, the accused were agitated, still uncertain what they were charged with, and the Taliban judges were frowning in their white turbans and promising a fair trial," says Scott. "It was a bizarre exercise that began four days before the Al Qaeda attacks in New York and Washington."

It ended in Ghazni, as Taliban officials fled the Northern Alliance and US-led coalition of forces. The officials had taken the aid workers along as human shields. They were headed south toward Kandahar. But about one-third of the way there, in Ghazni, local residents helped the foreign aid workers to escape from jail.

"What struck me was how little had changed in the Supreme Court offices," Scott says. "There was still a guard standing outside the office. There was still a large leather paddle used for flogging. And while Mr. Shinwari himself was never a member of the Taliban government, his firm belief that sharia should be the supreme law of the land is a belief that would have resonated favorably with the Taliban government."

From what Scott could tell, the only thing missing from the courtroom since that day in 2001 was the long, curved sword, used in capital-punishment cases.

David Clark Scott
World editor


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