Here they are and they are all yours, said Marine Corps Captain Robert Bob Stephens. He was pointing toward a large room at the end of a lengthy hallway in the temporary Diwaniyah Courthouse, where several dozen Iraqi judges were anxiously waiting to meet me. Stephens was one of the young JAG officers who accompanied the Marines during their successful push to Baghdad.
You will find that motivating these men is a lot like pushing a
piece of string Stephens said. But remember, the future of
the new Iraq is in the hands of guys like these.
walked slowly down the corridor toward the judges. He scanned each doorway
for any sign of trouble. I followed closely behind him. It seemed more
than a bit unusual to carry military arms into a court of law, but these
were not normal times. May 2003 saw an end to Saddam Husseins organized
military forces but a new enemy was organizing and planning to frustrate
the fledgling democracy.
was good reason to proceed cautiously. My first introduction to the New
Iraq occurred a few days earlier when I rode for the first time
to the Diwaniyah town market. The citys market area was known as
a clandestine arms bazaar where anything from a pistol to a rocket propelled
grenade could be easily and cheaply purchased. It was here that I witnessed
a hand grenade assault on several innocent civilians. I was appalled by
the indiscriminate nature of the attack. The perpetrator casually pedaled
down the street on an old bicycle and cavalierly lobbed a grenade into
a group of innocent civilians. The blast left two adults and a small child
injured. A taxi stopped, collected the wounded and sped off to the hospital.
The message was clear; the assailant could just have easily targeted me.
was preparing to leave Iraq and return to the United States. I was his
replacement. My orders were simple: reconstruct the legal system in this
southern Iraqi city of almost 400,000. The task seemed daunting. There
were approximately 30 judges and 200 lawyers in Diwaniyah province. Many
of these were hiding from the coalition and the Iraqi people. They feared
reprisal for their role in Saddams regime and rightly so. Most of
the court officials were absent as well, having fled with most of the
courthouse equipment, vehicles and furniture. To complicate matters, court
records were destroyed in the spontaneous looting following the liberation
of the Diwaniyah. Finally, the magnificent courthouse, which stood for
hundreds of years as a testament to the rule of law, stood in ruins. The
citizens of Diwaniyah, loosed from the dictators iron grip, attacked
and destroyed all tangible signs of his reig, including this marvelous
weeks earlier, I was employed as a prosecutor in northern Georgia. My
days were spent researching, drafting charges, and preparing for court.
Ironically, the issue of the day was obtaining funding to replace a badly
outdated county courthouse. Our state court system functioned unencumbered
by the new dictates of security propelled by the events of 9/11.
watched the attack on New York City and the Pentagon on television with
a clear understanding that my reserve commission might lead to my direct
participation in what is now referred to as the global war on terror.
The professors who arranged my studies at Emory School of Law roughly
two decades earlier could not have foreseen my predicament. Was my legal
education sufficient preparation for my mission in Iraq?
the summer of 2003, I served as the coalition representative to the courts
in Diwaniyah. My first task was to convince the judges and court officials
to return to work. Initially, they were not satisfied with the facility
designated as the interim courthouse. In their opinion, the temporary
structure lacked the solemn dignity necessary to foster the practice of
law. I constantly reminded them the original courthouse was rapidly undergoing
reconstruction by a team of United States Navy Seabees and Iraqi workers.
I obtained and studied translated copies of the Iraqi legal code to ensure
court officials complied with a myriad of procedural and substantive rules.
Professionally, however, my interest was directed to the Iraqi Criminal
Code. I received the translated version directly from the Coalition Provisional
Authority (CPA). The Iraqi Criminal Code of 1969 defines crimes, defenses
and punishments in a fashion similar to any U.S. state penal code. Iraqs
criminal code defines crimes by elements that must be shown prior to the
Court entering a finding of guilt against the defendant. For example Paragraph
411 of the Iraqi Criminal Code of 1969 defines the offense of manslaughter
I discovered the Iraqi judges and lawyers loved to debate. They were knowledgeable
about foreign legal systems and greatly enjoyed criticizing our jury system.
How can you expect untrained citizens to make the correct decisions?
Iraq, a panel of three judges tries a person charged with a felony. The
evidence is presented mostly through a file prepared by an investigative
judge who takes evidence from witnesses and investigating officials. The
prosecutor merely reinforces the information contained in the file through
oral argument. I almost envied the Iraqi prosecutors job upon remembering
the hours of preparation required for a simple jury trial and the almost
superhuman effort needed to secure the attendance of critical witnesses.
The Iraqi defense attorneys role is to point out to the court omissions
in the evidence and the inevitable good character of the defendant.
the summer, I developed solid friendships with the Iraqi Judges and Lawyers
in Diwaniyah. Their Shiite heritage and my Christian beliefs were never
an impediment to our mutual respect. Gradually, most of the court officials
returned to their pre-war job as word of our work spread through the community.
Many of them arrived with the courts missing furniture, vehicles
and a few precious surviving files. Things were beginning to shape
up. When the new courthouse opened in August, the Iraqi police assigned
to guard this facility described their new assignments as jobs of
the highest honor.
my final day in Diwaniyah, the Iraqi courthouse contractor and the Chief
Judge approached me. They wanted to know if I wanted to name a small rose
garden adjacent to the courthouse. I thought for a moment about our accomplishments
and my pending reassignment to the Sunni Triangle. I said,
Lets call it the Garden of Peace. When the words were
translated my Iraqi friends began to cry. We all knew that Iraq would
see many more days before this hope was realized. Reestablishment of the
Iraqi judicial system was a good start but it was only that; a start.
following day as I rode down the main road leaving town, my unit passed
the new courthouse where the Iraqi judges, lawyers and officials would
continue the work we initiated together. It occurred to me that my legal
education did contribute to the modest success I achieved. I was proud
to bring to Iraq the values of the American legal system so abundantly
instilled during my three years of study at Emory.
Suddenly my attention shifted to the rose garden. Attached to a wooden post was a hand painted sign which said in English, Britt Garden of Peace.
Major William Britt graduated from Emory School of Law in 1985. He received an undergraduate degree in Political Science from the University of Georgia in 1982. He is a Prosecutor in the Appalachian Judicial Circuit and is currently on military duty as a JAG Officer in support of Operation Enduring Freedom.