American former beauty queen defending foreigners stuck in Afghan legal system

Kimberly Motley, a former Miss Wisconsin, defends foreigners caught up in the corrupt Afghan legal system.
Washington Post Foreign Service
Friday, October 22, 2010; 3:02 PM

KABUL - The former Miss Wisconsin didn't seem to notice the stares as the car bounced down the narrow dirt road that leads to Kabul's infamous Pol-e-charki prison.

When the vehicle came to a stop at the first guard post, Kimberley Motley, an American defense lawyer who represents foreigners ensnarled in Afghanistan's legal system, lowered her window and flashed a smile. She wondered how long it was going to take to get inside this time.

"It's always a fight around here," said the lawyer, who was wearing tight jeans, a fitted green top and not a lick of makeup.

The onetime Milwaukee public defender has carved out an uncharted niche in an often-overlooked battleground in the Afghan war. The country's criminal justice system is among the weakest links in a system of deficient institutions. It is beset by widespread corruption, shoddy police work, a presumption of guilt and a subservience to the politically powerful.

Navigating it effectively as a defense lawyer takes connections, acumen and, more often than not, clients with deep pockets and few scruples.

Doing so as an American woman who refuses to pay bribes or cover her head takes far more: charm, perseverance and patience. Then there's Motley's secret courtroom weapon: an iPad outfitted with a Koran application that allows her to quickly pull up verses from Islam's holy book.

"It takes a whole lot of stubbornness and it takes me not accepting no for an answer," said Motley, 35. "I'm willing to wait and I'm willing to keep arguing."

She was in Pol-e-charki to see two South African clients. The most pressing case was Philip Young's. The 47-year-old contractor was recently sentenced to 16 years for murder and is hoping Motley can get the conviction overturned, or the term reduced, by appealing to the Supreme Court.

It took about 30 minutes of shoving, cajoling and sweet-talking before the gates of Pol-e-charki opened for Motley. Most of the guards greeted her warmly.

"You made it!" Young exclaimed when he saw her.

The two sat on a wobbly mattress in a guardroom, the only spot they could find to talk privately in a block that holds petty criminals and insurgents who openly discuss their hatred of foreigners.

Young was detained a little over a year ago after fatally shooting an Afghan guard during a confrontation at work. The South African says he opened fire in self-defense after the recently fired guard shot at him.

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