- The Washington Times - Monday, December 17, 2001

KABUL, Afghanistan When Supreme Court Judge Zalmai Payeda saw the Taliban dangle freshly chopped-off hands and feet from a tree in downtown Kabul, he mourned the loss of justice in Afghanistan.
"When I saw someone whose hands were cut off or feet were cut off by the Taliban, I felt very sad," said Mr. Payeda last week in an interview.
"The Taliban cut off a hand from the wrist and cut off a foot from the ankle," he said, tracing a line across his wrist with his finger and then pulling up his pant leg and tracing another line across his ankle.
The white-bearded Mr. Payeda, 55, was a Supreme Court judge for 24 years. After the Taliban seized Kabul in 1996, however, they kicked him off the bench. The Taliban set up its own judicial system presided over by loyal mullahs, or traditional prayer leaders from local Muslim mosques, instead of judges.
But at the end of November the new anti-Taliban "interim" government asked Mr. Payeda to return to the Supreme Court as a judge, along with all other judges, court officials and secretaries.
The Taliban staged so many public executions during their five years in power, the Supreme Court judge lost count.
"I can't say how many executions there were, but in this stadium every 15 days, or every month or every two months someone was executed or their hands or feet were amputated.
"During an execution, a person had his hands and feet tied and then someone would take a knife and slit his throat in the stadium and that person would bleed to death. Or someone would shoot a person with bullets from an assault rifle in the back," he said.
Men and boys were brought into the stadium to watch and learn a lesson. But most males avoided the stadium whenever such punishment was meted out, he said.
Now that the Taliban has been ousted from power, Mr. Payeda goes each morning to the Supreme Court to consult with other reappointed judges. They try to repair the nation's ruined judicial system.
Sickened by the amputations during the Taliban's rule, Mr. Payeda wants a new legal code which would imprison thieves and other criminals instead of subjecting them to torturous punishment.
"I want a mixture of Sharia [Islamic] law and civil law," he said. "All amputations should stop. "Thieves should be put in jail because if you cut off their hand or foot, then the person cannot work after they come out of jail."
The Taliban also inflicted other ancient punishments, such as publicly stoning people to death, toppling a wall onto them or whipping them.
The Taliban's first public execution in Kabul occurred in December 1996, shortly after it came to power. About 3,000 men, mostly Taliban fighters, watched the morbid spectacle. The condemned man had been convicted of strangling to death a pregnant woman and her three small children. Her grieving husband was allowed to kill him with a Kalashnikov assault rifle in the stadium.
When the Taliban was later asked why it executed people in a sports stadium built by international aid, members said that Kabul was too impoverished to have a separate death chamber.
The Taliban suggested if the international community was concerned, more foreign aid should be provided to build a separate facility for executions.
Today the Supreme Court, housed in a functional, tan brick building, awaits its first cases under the new interim regime, which takes power Saturday.
In a large room, judges sit in six straight-backed chairs behind a long desk.
In a building next to the Supreme Court, a room contains a dust-covered archive of cases and convictions.
"These archives are all the cases held during the Taliban, but also date back before that, all the way back to the time of King Zahir Shah," who was deposed in 1973, the guard said.
It was not clear if international investigators would probe the archive for possible evidence for use in any future trials against the defeated Taliban.

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