Commentary Magazine


Investigating Mahmoud Karzai

It’s good to read that federal prosecutors in New York are investigating Mahmoud Karzai, President Hamid Karzai’s brother, who, like his siblings, became an instant millionaire when his brother took power. Mahmoud is actually a U.S. citizen, so he is especially vulnerable to American law enforcement. But I have a question and a caveat to offer.

First, I don’t understand why the New York Times is reporting that the NSA is wiretapping Mahmoud. NSA surveillance is one of the most closely held secrets in the U.S. government, so why was it leaked? Possibly to put pressure on Mahmoud, but, if anything, it simply alerts him to be more discreet in his communications. Perhaps someone more savvy in the ways of law enforcement can tell me what’s going on with the leak.

Now the caveat: the goal should not be to throw Mahmoud into jail. The goal should be to apply leverage on his brother, the president, to help clean up Afghan politics. Investigating Mahmoud is a great way to pressure his brother, but actually indicting him and trying to convict him could backfire by making Hamid more intransigent. It is vitally important that this criminal probe be coordinated at the highest levels of the administration with General Petraeus’s headquarters and the U.S. Embassy in Kabul to make sure that all the U.S. government actors are on the same page here. Unfortunately, given the Justice Department’s tradition of independence, I suspect that kind of coordination to only happen at the cabinet or even presidential level. Prosecutions, in general, should be made strictly on the merits of the case, but this is a case that is intimately wrapped up with an American war effort in which 100,000 American lives are at risk. Therefore, ordinary law-enforcement concerns need to be subordinated to larger strategic imperatives.