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Aussie Robert Langdon facing death in Kabul
* EXCLUSIVE: Jeremy Kelly, Kabul -
From: The Australian -
January 27, 2010
A FORMER Australian soldier has been sentenced to death in Kabul for murdering an Afghan security guard and trying to blame the Taliban for the crime.
Robert William Langdon, 38, was working as a security contractor in Afghanistan and was arrested in May last year after shooting his colleague, a man known as Karim, four times in the head and body.
At the time, he was employed by the US-based contractor Four Horsemen International, which specialises in the hire of former US and foreign special forces for guard duties in Afghanistan.
The Australian can now reveal details of the case that potentially puts the Rudd government on a collision course with Afghan President Hamid Karzai, given its staunch opposition to the death penalty while it helps secure and rebuild the war-ravaged country.
Early on May 4 last year, Langdon went to assist a supply convoy that had been attacked that night by Taliban insurgents.
The convoy was protected by 60 Afghan and expatriate guards.
Karim was the Afghan team leader and when the convoy reached the Wardak provincial capital of Maiden Shar, 40km from Kabul, at about 3am he refused to continue, saying the road ahead was too dangerous. A violent argument then ensued.
In court, Langdon, who was the expatriate team leader, admitted killing Karim but said he fired in self-defence because the Afghan guard was reaching for his pistol.
"He reached across, and I am ex-military, so it was like bang-bang-bang-bang.
"I didn't have time to think.
"We had just been hit (attacked by the Taliban), we didn't know what was happening and everyone was antsy," Langdon said.
"I was too, Karim probably was too," he said.
But Langdon's claims of diminished responsibility were undermined by an admission that he had tried to cover up the crime by throwing a hand grenade into the truck containing Karim's body.
Langdon ordered the convoy's Nepalese and Afghan guards to fire into the air to fake a Taliban attack in which it would appear Karim had been a victim.
After telling the guards to continue on to their destination, Langdon returned to Kabul, emptied $US10,000 from his local bank account and bought a ticket to Dubai, but he was arrested at the airport as he tried to board the flight.
Questioned by the judges, Langdon agreed he had burnt the vehicle containing Karim and created a false explanation for his death but said they were the actions of a "confused man" who had already decided to leave Afghanistan.
This week Langdon was transferred from the police jail to the infamous Pol-e-Charkhi prison on the capital's outskirts. Langdon shook slightly and then nodded when an appeal court judge told him his fate last week.
With hands and feet shackled, Langdon was led back to a cell at Kabul's police headquarters.
Guards there said he was well-behaved but appeared severely depressed.
Langdon's best hope appears to be the Afghan tradition of ibra, or forgiveness, that allows a family to forgive the loss of a loved one in exchange for a compensation payment.
The Australian's family was this week desperately trying to raise money to persuade the dead man's family to formally ask the Supreme Court in Kabul to spare Langdon's life.
Similar "act of grace" payments are frequently made by the Australian and other coalition governments to the families of Afghans killed by troops to prevent retribution.
The Australian understands Afghan lawyers acting for Langdon are now close to reaching a settlement with the victim's family which could lead to authorities freeing the Australian.
After rejecting his appeal, Judge Abdul Khalil Modafe told Langdon he must try to obtain forgiveness from his victim's family.
The payment could amount to tens of thousands of dollars.
Judge Modafe told Langdon: "Because you are a young person, we are going to help you. If you could try to get the family to agree to forgiveness we can attach it to your case so when it goes to the (Supreme Court) it will help you."
The judge said forgiveness was an important part of Afghan culture. "You must convince them," he said.
Langdon's family in Port Augusta, 300km north of Adelaide, expressed concern for the former soldier's welfare when contacted by The Australian.
His sister Katie Godfrey said the family was still working with authorities to try to save him from the death penalty.
"There are delicate legal negotiations going on," she said tearfully, declining to say whether those negotiations included fundraising to pay the victim's family.
Langdon's father, Peter, said the family was communicating through DFAT contacts but had been instructed not to bring attention to his son's case.
"We've just been told that we are to do nothing," he said.
Robert Langdon travelled regularly during his army career and as a private security worker, often leaving his family in the dark as to his location. "We sort of don't know where he is half the time," said his cousin Paul.
Peter Langdon said he did not even know when his son had gone to Afghanistan.
The Defence Department confirmed Langdon had served in the regular army and enlisted in 1989 and switched to the reserve in 2004.
DFAT has declined to comment on the case, although a spokesman confirmed to The Australian that Langdon had been given "considerable consular assistance for some months".
FHI says it specialises in the hire of "veterans of the nation's elite special ops units drawn from all branches of the US military and foreign services", and says they include "retired ranks from major-general down to sergeant".
Additional reporting: Mark Dodd, Pia Akerman
Wheels of justice grind slow for death row Australian
By Michael Edwards for AM
An Australian security contractor convicted of murder in Afghanistan has a long wait to learn his fate as his case crawls through the Afghan justice system.
Robert Langdon's predicament began when he shot dead an Afghan colleague while reportedly working as a contractor for US based security firm Four Horsemen International.
Langdon, a former soldier in the Australian Army, claims it was in self-defence, but an Afghan court found him guilty of murder and sentenced him to death by hanging.
His lawyers are set to appeal against the penalty to Afghanistan's Supreme Court, and the Australian Government has lent its support to his case.
Tens of thousands of security contractors work in Afghanistan and their numbers are increasing.
Analysts say the presence of this private army is a source of tension between Afghanistan's government and its western allies.
Candace Rondeaux, a senior analyst with the International Crisis Group based in Afghanistan, says the wheels of Afghan justice can turn slowly.
"The system is notoriously thick with bureaucracy, delays, lost paperwork, appeals and so forth, and procedural issues," she said.
"It's a very complex system that doesn't really work very efficiently."
Ms Rondeaux says the Afghan government is increasingly less likely to turn a blind eye to crimes committed by foreign contractors.
"Obviously a case where a foreign citizen out and out murders, or is accused of murdering, an Afghan citizen, I think it's extremely sensitive especially given the tensions right now between the Afghan Government and it's Coalition partners in NATO," she said.
"I think that right now the Karzai government is quite determined to separate itself out and be clear that it's going to be critical of its partners when it oversteps its bounds.
"That is to say, for NATO, civilian causalities in these last couple of years has become a major political issue that Karzai has again and again punted their way.
"I would imagine that a case in which an Australian or even American citizen is accused of murdering an Afghan citizen is not an issue that's going to go away very quickly or very easily."
In recent years the Afghan Government has allowed foreign security contractors accused of crimes to be dealt with in their home country.
Ms Rondeaux says the risk for someone in Langdon's situation is that in the current climate the issue could become political.
"I don't necessarily think that this government has out and out said that they're going to be more attentive, or overly attentive to private security contractors and their behaviour," she said.
"But I do think it is sensitive because in part the licensing can be very complex and also not very efficient, there are always questions about who was actually licensed to carry a weapon around the country.
"So it in this case, for instance, there was some issue with this particular gentleman I can imagine that it would be an interesting political football for the Karzai government to throw around when it comes to the negotiating table with its NATO partners."
Rudd vows to act as Robert Langdon faces death penalty in Afghanistan
Samantha Maiden -
From: The Australian -
January 27, 2010
KEVIN Rudd has vowed to intervene in the case of a former Australian soldier who has been sentenced to death in Kabul for murdering an Afghan.
But the Prime Minister has warned Australia must first allow the legal appeals process to play out and said he did not want to prejudice that outcome.
“We as the government always intervene in support of any Australian citizen who has been convicted of a capital offence,” Mr Rudd told Perth radio.
“(But) While that appeal is under way I don't intend to get engaged in a rolling commentary on the content of the case.”
The Australian revealed today that Robert William Langdon, 38, had been sentenced to death in Kabul for murdering an Afghan security guard and trying to blame the Taliban for the crime.
Langdon was working as a security contractor in Afghanistan and was arrested in May last year after shooting his colleague, a man known as Karim, four times in the head and body.
Mr Rudd refused to be drawn on whether Australia's role in Afghanistan would deliver extra weight to any intervention to save the man's life.
“We need to adhere to Afghan due process. I don't think it would be wise at this stage to predict the effectiveness of any particular intervention by me,” he said.
“Talking publicly about how much influence you have with the government in question may not help their case. I think it's fair to say more generally that we have a good operating relationship with the government of Afghanistan.”
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