Winter 2009: Online Exclusive

David Tafuri in Iraq

Lawyer in the Field: David Tafuri 92C served as Rule-of-Law coordinator in Iraq, increasing protection and training for lawyers, judges, and staff.

Courtesy David Tafuri

Rule of Law

Alumnus helps rebuild Iraqi legal system

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When attorney David Tafuri 92C returned home to Washington, D.C., last year after working to help Iraq rebuild a functional legal system, he was hopeful that the progress he and his colleagues had been able to achieve would make a lasting difference.

“I was very interested in doing international law out in the field. I wanted to do something service-oriented, to go where I was needed,” says Tafuri, who took a leave of absence from the law firm Patton Boggs to work for the State Department. “At the time I went to Iraq in July 2006, the country was really in a crisis. It didn’t have much rule of law.”

Tafuri, who graduated from Emory College with a degree in political science and went on to earn his law degree from Georgetown in 1996, was the rule-of-law coordinator for Iraq, running the State Department’s rule-of-law programs. These programs encompassed the entire legal complex of a modern state—from a constitution and legislation to courts, judges, police, prisons, a commercial code, and anticorruption mechanisms.

His office was in the U.S. Embassy in the Green Zone in Baghdad, but Tafuri ended up traveling all over Iraq, meeting with local judges and lawyers. “The biggest obstacle to moving forward with the legal system was security,” he says. “The judges were major targets—about one judge a month was assassinated. Many of our judges, while committed to doing their jobs, couldn’t fulfill their responsibilities. Some would sleep in their offices for weeks at a time because they were afraid to go home. It was very inspiring to see judges and lawyers, who were also targets, doing their jobs under that kind of stress.”

Tafuri experienced a few close calls himself—rockets were fired at him and colleagues as they stood in front of a courthouse, and his parked, empty car was hit by a rocket. “There were times in the Green Zone when rockets were coming in on a daily basis,” he says.

The programs’ goals were to advance and modernize Iraq’s legal system while gaining the people’s trust. “It was definitely two steps forward, one step back,” Tafuri said. But there were accomplishments: increased criminal trials, decreased numbers of Iraqi defendants in jail without due process, doubling the number of judges.

“We can’t stay there forever,” Tafuri says. “My hope is, it will reach a critical point where Iraqis believe in having a democratic government. Despite the incredible turmoil every Iraqi who stayed has gone through, there are really good people who are committed to making Iraq a country with a strong rule-of-law system. Given the risks they’ve taken and all of the Iraqis who died in the process, I really hope they’ll be successful.”

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