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On Kabul Staff Death, "External" Prober Had Conflict of Interest, UN's Unilateral Spin

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, April 22, updated -- The UN's supposedly "external" Board of Inquiry into the murder of Louis Maxwell and other UN staff in Kabul last October was revealed Thursday to have been under the decidedly "internal" leadership of Andrew Hughes, who served as the UN's Police chief from 2007 until, it seems, March 8, 2010. The Board of Inquiry began, without any public notice, in January 2010.

  The Board of Inquiry was triggered by cell phone video footage showing Louis Maxwell, long after fighting around the guesthouse was over, being shot and killed, and not by Taliban. The UN knew this since December, but only belatedly and begrudgingly discussed the issue publicly when asked, repeatedly, in April.

  At the noon briefing of April 20 in response to Inner City Press' questions, UN Spokesman Martin Nesirky stated "this particular board... was composed of external and internal senior personnel with relevant backgrounds and Afghanistan expertise -- including in security; investigations; and agencies, funds and programmes. It was led by a former senior Australian Federal Police Officer."

  While Nesirky emphasized "former Australian Federal Police Officer" -- that is, external to the UN -- since then, Mr. Hughes was named to a UN post by Secretary General Ban Ki-moon. In fact, during his service with UN Police, the unit's publication "UN Police Magazine of July 2009"described the unit's work in Afghanistan as "forging trust in uniformed police, establishing faith in national justice systems."

  One wonders: isn't a bit of a conflict of interest to have Mr Hughes be responsible for evaluating the actions of the Afghanistan National Police, an entity that Mr Hughes was responsible "forging trust" and "establishing faith" in?

  On April 22, Inner City Press asked UN Spokesman Nesirky basic factual questions about the overlap of Mr. Hughes service as UN Police chief and as "external" leader of the Board of Inquiry, and whether once he left his Police chief post, he was paid by the UN for this "external" work.

Nesirky refused to answer these or other questions, saying that all he would say was a prepared statement that the Board of Inquiry -- disclosed belatedly and only after questions -- was now complete but that Afghanistan and "other relevant stakeholders" must have time to respond before the UN speaks about it. Video here, from Minute 44:26.

But while the UN's Spokesman deflects all questions by saying nothing can be said until later, the Number Two official in the UN Department of Field Support, Tony Banbury, served up the UN's position on the report and on charges they have covered up to Foreign Policy's new blog, "Turtle Bay" [for praise of which, on other stories, see below.]

  Inner City Press asked Nesirky when Banbury would come to answer questions, since he had spoken on the record to Turtle Bay. Nesirky responded that Inner City Press had send written questions to Banbury "on deadline" - which have remained unanswered six hours later, including these:

Will the UN identify the probe's other members?

Were other UN departments informed of the composition of the board prior to its commencement of work, and invited to participate, or was the Board just selected and appointed by DPKO/DFS?

Can the UN confirm Ban Ki Moon's prior statement that Afghan police failed to respond to the guesthouse for 90 minutes?

Was Louis Maxwell's weapon retrieved by the UN, and does the UN have it in its possession?

Was the killer of Louis Maxwell ever identified or apprehended? Where is he now?

   Thursday at the UN noon briefing, Inner City Press asked "where is Mr. Banbury today," since he did not respond to these written questions about his on the record claims. Neskiry would not answer.

UN's Tony "I'm Elated" Banbury, spinning but not answering questions

  In fact, in what a number of reporters viewed as retaliation, Nesirky tried to deny Inner City Press to right to ask any other questions, cutting off any follow up and saying "one more question," about a movie. As Inner City Press put forward a question, Nesirky closed his binder and stood. Video here, from Minute 59:25. The question was about Thailand and requests made to the UN by the protesters. Nesirky relented and read out another statement, dodged a question on Sri Lanka and was gone. And so it goes at the UN.

Footnote: Inner City Press does not like to disparage other media, particularly one which like the writer of Turtle Bay has done good work at and on the UN, on OIOS and many other topics. While Turtle Bay says it was offered the Banbury briefing and had no choice but to take it, it is noteworthy that Banbury and UN thought this "blog" was the best venue to unilaterally put out their side of the story.

  We put "blog" in quotes, including to follow UN Spokesman Martin Nesirky's statements April 21 against what Inner City Press "put on [its] blog" about the UN covering up. Is this 2010, the UN, using one blog against another?

  One might for example note in blog-style that Banbury is most famous of late for saying that news of three rapes in camps in Haiti "almost elated me," and then issuing a convoluted clarification later. Now he speaks unilaterally and takes no questions. "Like Tiger Woods' first press conference," as one reporter put it. Watch this site.

* * *

As UN Denies It Covered Up Kabul Murder of UN Workers, De Mistura Dodges, Nesirky Lashes Out at "Blog" Quoting Staff

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, April 21 -- With questions mounting about whether and why the Afghan National forces killed UN security officer Louis Maxwell in Afghanistan last October, and why the UN said nothing publicly about this until being repeatedly asked about it last week, things heated up Wednesday at the UN in New York.

  After in Kabul Secretary General Ban Ki-moon's representative Staffan de Mistura dodged Afghan television questions about Maxwell's death, Ban's spokesman Martin Nesirky, lashed out at Inner City Press' use in a "blog" of the word "cover up" This is how UN staff in Kabul who raised the issue to Inner City Press characterize the UN's response.

  Inner City Press on Wednesday asked Nesirky if the UN has in its possession the weapon assigned to Louis Maxwell, or whether it was stolen during, and perhaps as the goal of, his murder. A witness has come forward about the

"people died in the guesthouse about forty yards from my door. One of those people was an American by the name of Louis Maxwell, a security guard for the United Nations...Louis Maxwell committed himself effectively and honorably and survived the Taliban attack. It was only after he came down from the roof, and after the ANP had secured the compound, that he was killed. According to video obtained by the UN, he was shot at point-blank range by Afghan police in the courtyard of the guesthouse. The reason? They wanted his gun."

  Inner City Press asked Nesirky to state, yes or no, if the UN has Maxwell's gun in its possession. Rather than answer this question, Nesirky went into a seemingly prepared statement that, "let's be clear, you have written that' management of information is one thing, cover up and lies are another'... that is outrageous."

When Inner City Press explained that cover up and lies precisely the characterizations used by the UN staff in Kabul who have raised this to Inner City Press, Nesirky chided Inner City Press for not then putting the words in quotes and presumably identifying the speaker. But the UN has a history of retaliating against whistleblowers, so it is perhaps this request -- and misuse of the bully pulpit of the UN's briefing room rostrum -- which some find outrageous.

Once the UN became aware -- and more, with the video footage -- that Maxwell may have been executed by Afghan National forces, why did it say nothing publicly? Nesirky did not answer.

If this "Board of Inquiry," Ban Ki-moon's awareness of which his spokesman Nesirky would not describe, were to conclude that there is no definitive evidence Maxwell was killed by a particular member of the Afghan National forces, would the UN ever have disclosed the doubts and inquiry?

UN's Ban, de Mistura, Leroy et al. and Karzai, Maxwell not shown

In Kabul, Ban's SRSG di Mistura was asked:

TV ONE [translated from Dari]: In view of recent comments by a UN spokesperson, I want to know your views on the UN staff member killed in the Bakhtar attack?

SRSG: Can I first reply to questions on the elections? Today we are focusing on questions on elections, but I will come back to you.

  Before Inner City Press began asking questions about the death of Louis Maxwell, it received this and other requests:

Dear Matthew,

I wish to bring to your attention the disgraceful lack of action by the UN Secretary General in response to aspects of the tragic attack upon the Bakhtar Guesthouse in Kabul, Afghanistan on 28 October 2009 which resulted in the deaths of five UN staff members and injuries to many others. I am referring to the following facts which came to light during the investigation.

* UN Security Officer, Louis Maxwell, (US citizen), who heroically resisted the attackers thus allowing many others to successfully escape, was summarily executed at point blank range by an Afghan National Army member while in their custody, unarmed and not offering any resistance. The extra-judicial killing was captured on video by a staff member of the German Embassy and copies were provided to UN investigators. The video has since been posted on the German 'Der Spiegel' media site although they have failed to realise (or at least publish) what exactly it is they are airing. In the aftermath of the incident many Afghan security forces are interviewed on camera by the local Afghan media and one Army Officer admits killing an 'Arab' terrorist outside the guesthouse. (Mr. Maxwell was an African American). Irrespective of whether he was mistaken for one of the attackers, his killing was nothing short of murder. UN SG Ban has refused to allow the issue to be raised with the Afghan government for political reasons and wants the US authorities to handle the 'problem.'

* Three of the other staff members killed during the incident were actually shot by indiscriminate and undisciplined fire from the Afghan security forces. The only staff member to actually die from the attackers actions was the UNICEF staff member who burned to death.

SG Ban needs media pressure to explain his failure to follow up on this crime with the Government of Afghanistan to ensure that those responsible are held accountable for their actions.

   Again, once the UN became aware -- and more, with the video footage -- that Maxwell may have been executed by Afghan National forces, why did it say nothing publicly? Does the UN have in its possession Louis Maxwell's weapon? Watch this site.

From the UN's April 21 transcript, Inner City Press' questions and OSSG's Nesirky's responses:

Question: I wanted first to… I have a question about Sudan from yesterday, but I wanted to follow up on this Afghanistan Board of Inquiry questions. One is that a witness to the events has come forward and said that Mr. Maxwell was killed for his gun, that the Afghan national forces wanted his high-end assault rifle, and therefore killed him to take it. They say it’s a… the gun is a Heckler and Koch g36k assault rifle. What I wanted to know is, even as this is going on, does the UN have in its possession at the end of those events the weapon used by Louis Maxwell in defending the other staff members? And also, is the Secretary-General, I think I’d asked this in a written question I sent to you, before Ms. [Susana] Malcorra convened this Board of Inquiry, was the Secretary-General aware of this issue and did he approve of the composition and mandate of the Board of Inquiry?

Spokesperson: Well, let’s roll back a little bit. As I have said, the Board of Inquiry is finalizing its report. It has not yet done so. It has not yet been presented to those, as I outlined, who would be presented either with the report or with the findings, depending on who it is. So, I can’t say here and now what the findings are, because that report has not been finalized and has not been handed over. Therefore, on a very specific question such as the weapon, I cannot give you an answer to that. This is a Board of Inquiry…

Question: [inaudible] factual question [inaudible]

Spokesperson: It may be a factual question, Matthew, and let us be really clear about one thing, I seem to recall that you have written somewhere that management of information is one thing, but cover up and lies are another. Well, let me say here and now that this is pretty outrageous and also insulting. We’re talking about the death of one of our staff, a UN security officer who helped to save many lives. It’s our responsibility, it’s our duty to find out the facts. That is exactly what we are doing. And this is a Board of Inquiry; everything is being done as it should. And once this has been finalized and given to those who need to know first, there will be a briefing, I am sure, as I have said, this has been done in the past. And there will be an opportunity for you to ask further questions.

Question: That’s from a communication actually from UN staff in Kabul who, when they initially raised this, said that they had been asking the Secretariat to raise this to the Afghan Government for months with no action. So, just so, you can say it’s outrageous, but I am saying…

Spokesperson: No, that’s…

Question: …those who work there…

Spokesperson: Matthew, Matthew, let’s be really clear. Let’s be really clear: what’s outrageous is what you wrote in your blog, not what you’ve just put to me. And I have just quoted you this one…

Question: [inaudible] believe that the Secretariat has covered up the death of one of their colleagues because it is inconvenient to raise it to the Afghan Government. Your response is that it is outrageous. That’s…

Spokesperson: No, it’s outrageous what you wrote. It was not a quote, it was not a quote. It’s what you wrote in your blog.

Correspondent: Okay, fine.

Spokesperson: And it was not a quote from someone.

Question: I didn’t know that this was a forum for you to critique articles, but I just wanted to know [inaudible].

Spokesperson: No, it is, because it is possible for me to respond to you in the same way that it is possible for you to respond to me. What I am trying to tell you is that -- let me finish. The UN lost a number of people, including the security officer, Mr. Maxwell, who had saved many lives. We want to know what happened. We’re looking into this. We want to know what happened. There is a Board of Inquiry that has looked into this and it is finalizing its report. That’s the most important thing that we’re trying to find out. We want to know. You want to know, we want to know. And when the Board of Inquiry has finalized its report, then those who need to know first of all, would be told.

Question: When was the UN going to say publicly that they were aware of an alternative theory of the death of Louis Maxwell and three other staff members?

Spokesperson: There is a Board of Inquiry that has been working on this for a long time. You’ve seen the timeline.

Question: But you’ve also said that if only in cases where, depending on the finding, it may or may not be made public. If this inquiry were done, and I think this was the sense of staff in Kabul, if the inquiry were done and the UN decided to conclude that there wasn’t conclusive evidence that Louis Maxwell was killed by Afghan national forces, would the UN have ever said anything publicly about this?

Spokesperson: There is no need for the United Nations to -- let’s put it this way, the United Nations wants to know. Colleagues want to know. Friends want to know. Family want to know. We want to know. He was our guy. We want to know what happened. And the Board of Inquiry is doing, and has been doing, the job that it was asked to do, which is to find out. There is a due process here that is being followed.

Question: Due process for who? For the Afghan national, unnamed Afghan national forces, that’s what I know; I mean due process usually means the accused.

Spokesperson: It means following the procedure for, with -- as I have said to you -- standard operational procedure for these kinds of boards within the United Nations. And I have said here before, that if warranted, this will be taken up with the Afghan authorities -- the findings.

Question: Okay. I know, I understand. Just to be clear, I just want your quote. To those who feel that the lack of any public statement by the UN from -- since October -- about this issue despite their knowledge amounts to a cover up, what would you say?

Spokesperson: Absolutely not the case. Absolutely not the case. This is a Board of Inquiry that was set up to look into what was obviously an extremely tragic event, and to ensure that, to the extent possible, we find out what happened. My point was to you Matthew, very specifically, about one line in your blog that was not a quote from people, it was something that was just written there.

Question: [inaudible] I don’t quote them because they’re speaking off… they believe that the UN would retaliate against them. I mean, that’s… maybe you are unaware of those concerns. I wanted to ask about Sudan, because I think we may have exhausted this, at least for today.

* * *

On Afghan Death of Louis Maxwell As UN Edits Board's Report, 11 Questions Pending

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, April 19, updated -- As the scandal grows about not only the presumptive execution of UN staffer Louis Maxwell by Afghan National forces in October 2009, but also the UN's cover-up, Inner City Press on April 19 delved into the particulars of the UN's supposed "high level Board of Inquiry" into the death of Mr. Maxwell, a U.S. citizen.

  After having dodged Inner City Press' questions at the UN noon briefings of April 14 and April 15 by handing out answers to another media, on April 19 the UN took a series of questions and answered some of them by 6 pm. Inner City Press submitted follow up questions which, because of the history here, are set forth below. First, from the April 19 transcript:

Inner City Press: On Afghanistan, in continuing questioning on this death of Louis Maxwell and the other UN staff -- the guest house, you said last week that there was a high-level Board of Inquiry. I wanted to know what, and I had asked, somehow I didn’t… by high level, what’s meant? Are there any outsiders, an independent body? I’ve heard that it’s actually just DFS [Department of Field Support] employees, all of whom report to Susana Malcorra. Can you, if that’s not true, I would like to know. But, what does high-level mean, and will its report be made public or what will happen with its report? Under what mandate was it set up? I searched through various GA [General Assembly] and other documents, and there seems to be three kinds of boards of inquiry, none of which this one falls under. So I just, I guess I wanted to know…

Spokesperson Nesirky: What are the three?

Inner City Press: I have them written down here. Do you…

Spokesperson: We don’t have to go into it right now, but there are three different types…

Inner City Press: I’ll send these to you, but it wasn’t, you said, I think last week, you’d said that you know these are set up. So, I have to admit, maybe to my detriment, I don’t know actually know how they’re set up. But on this one, I would like to know whether it’s all DFS employees and whether it will be made public when it concludes its investigation.

Spokesperson: Three things: one is that the Board of Inquiry’s draft report has been completed, the draft. But that does not mean that it is finalized to go the Secretary-General. That’s the second point. The step after it is finalized would be for it to go the Secretary-General. Whether it’s subsequently made public is something that I can’t answer here and now. I would need to find out. I don’t know the answer to that right now. Clearly, there is a lot of public interest in this, and I’m sure that that would be taken into account. And as for the make-up of the board, who is on the board, I can’t give you names and numbers. What I can tell you is that, my understanding is that it is not exclusively in-house.

This is what I can tell you now -- to my understanding, as far as I know, this is not exclusively a board with in-house members. But the most important thing here is that regardless of the Constitution, the way that it is set up, it has the very clear aim of trying to understand precisely what happened. These are very tragic circumstances, and this was aimed to do an extremely thorough job to find out exactly what happened.

Inner City Press: When this first came up last week, it was said that there is a Board of Inquiry and that it will be done in due course. When was this draft completed, and what are the steps between where it stands now -- the draft? Was it completed over the weekend, or had it already been completed before these questions arose last week, and what steps between now and the Secretary-General getting it?

Spokesperson: When a draft report is completed, then it is clear that it is reviewed. And, then, before it is submitted to the Secretary-General, it is reviewed. That’s a normal, if you like, checks-and-balance kind of procedure that you would have with any report. Other people look at it and then it is finalized to go to the Secretary-General.

Inner City Press: [inaudible] because, like when you say reviewed, I had asked, by who, just because last week we had the experience of the [Heraldo] Muñoz Bhutto panel; they did their report; they didn’t show it to anyone until they gave it to the Secretary-General. So, it was an outside report…

Spokesperson: That’s right.

Inner City Press: In this case, is it Susana Malcorra reviewing it? Is it UNAMA [United Nations Assistance Mission for Afghanistan]? Is it the Afghan national forces? Who reviews it?

Spokesperson: I cannot give details to you on that right now. I am sure I will be able to. I need to establish exactly what hoops I jump through.

The UN later added to its transcript this "note" --

[The Spokesperson later added that it is standard procedure to convene a board of inquiry in cases such as this. This particular board was convened under the authority of the Under-Secretary-General of the Department of Field Support and was comprised of external and internal senior personnel with relevant backgrounds and Afghanistan expertise (security; investigations; agencies, funds and programmes). It was led by a former senior Australian Federal Police Officer.

The procedure for the conclusion of the board of inquiry is as follows: the board finishes and submits the draft report for legal comment. The report is then given back to the board for further action (as required) and/or sign-off. Once the report is signed off on by board members it is considered finalized and it is presented to the convening authority, in this case the Under-Secretary-General for Field Support, for further action as warranted. The actual boards of inquiry are not made public in order to protect the confidentiality of the investigation.]

  Receiving this, Inner City Press submitted follow up questions, which are printing here because last week, when Inner City Press asked questions on the record in the noon briefing, Nesirky's Office and his Associate Farhan Haq chose to give the answers to another media.

UN's Ban, Malcorra and Nambiar, Louis Maxwell file not shown

  Here are the new questions, we'll see to whom if anyone the UN Office gives answers:

Hello. Regarding the UN's answers, below, please answer these follow up questions, providing answers as they become available--

1. What is your reference when you say "standard procedure"? Can you please provide the citation for DFS BOIs which examine the death of a UN Security Officer?

2. In the event that the BOI finds the Host Government (Afghanistan) or an agent thereof responsible for the death of Mr Maxwell, will your office make this fact known to the UN Press Corps? Or would the UN consider this "confidential" as well?

3. Prior to Ms Malcorra "convening" the BOI, was the Secretary-General aware of her intention to do so, and did he approve the composition and mandate of this particular BOI?

4. Did this BOI include any staff member or nominee from any department other then DPKO and/or DFS?

5. You say below that the report has been "returned to BOI members." When will the report been/be provided to the Secretary-General?

6. Has or will the report been/be provided to the Host Government (Afghanistan)?

7. Has or will the report been/be provided to the US FBI?

8. News reports indicate that the video was provided to Stern "by the United Nations." Can you confirm or deny this assertion.

9. Did the BOI consider the wider issue of whether or not the initial attack was actually perpetrated by the Taliban, as originally reported by the UN, as opposed to having been perpetrated by another entity?

10. Has or will the report been/be provided to the family of Mr Maxwell.

11. Did the Government of Afghanistan cooperate fully with the BOI?

  While as of press time no answers were provided by the UN, Ms. Malcorra herself may have an excuse, auto responding that

"I will be out of the office starting 17/04/2010 and will not return until 27/04/2010."

  Note that the head of DPKO Alain Leroy is, one assumes, still on the ten day leave the UN said began on April 9. Others say they saw Leroy squiring Kofi Annan around on April 19. Welcome back, Kofi? Watch this site.

 Click here for an Inner City Press YouTube channel video, mostly UN Headquarters footage, about civilian deaths in Sri Lanka.

Click here for Inner City Press' March 27 UN debate

Click here for Inner City Press March 12 UN (and AIG bailout) debate

Click here for Inner City Press' Feb 26 UN debate

Click here for Feb. 12 debate on Sri Lanka

Click here for Inner City Press' Jan. 16, 2009 debate about Gaza

Click here for Inner City Press' review-of-2008 UN Top Ten debate

Click here for Inner City Press' December 24 debate on UN budget, Niger

Click here from Inner City Press' December 12 debate on UN double standards

Click here for Inner City Press' November 25 debate on Somalia, politics

and this October 17 debate, on Security Council and Obama and the UN.

* * *

These reports are usually also available through Google News and on Lexis-Nexis.

Click here for a Reuters AlertNet piece by this correspondent about Uganda's Lord's Resistance Army. Click here for an earlier Reuters AlertNet piece about the Somali National Reconciliation Congress, and the UN's $200,000 contribution from an undefined trust fund.  Video Analysis here

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