The Rule Of Law In Iraq: A Major Step Forward

Monday, March 1, 2004 - 00:00

The Editor interviews The Hon. Donald F. Campbell, recently returned from Iraq, where he served as Senior Advisor to the Coalition Provisional Authority's Ministry of Justice.

Editor: Judge Campbell, would you provide our readers with information about your background and experience?

Campbell:
I have been in the U.S. Army Reserves for approximately 35 years. Most of my time in the military has been with Civil Affairs. This is a branch that is responsible for interacting with the civilian community in any location where American armed forces are present. I grew up in Germany and Japan, and by the time I was 30 years of age I had lived in 30 different places all around the world. From a very early age, then, I had an appreciation of, and an ability to relate to, people from very different cultures. In my civilian life, I became a lawyer and, some 20 years ago, a New Jersey Superior Court Judge. I think it is also noteworthy that, some years prior to going to Iraq, I was involved in a mission in Haiti similar to the one I undertook in connection with the Iraqi Ministry of Justice, that is, advising and attempting to guide a judicial administration emerging from a traumatic situation.

Editor: How did you come to be named the Senior Advisor to the Coalition Authority's Ministry of Justice?

Campbell:
This past spring, while on an exercise in Korea, I was asked to speak to Lieutenant General Jay Garner, ret'd, with whom I had worked in the past. He remembered me from our prior association and asked if I would be willing to go to Iraq as a member of his team. I responded with some enthusiasm, and soon after he arrived in Baghdad he sent for a number of people, including three of us earmarked to work on the Ministry of Justice effort. One, Bill Lance, was a retired colonel who had worked at the Department of Justice, and the other, Clint Williamson, had been involved in a similar mission for the World Court. We arrived at the end of April - this was 2003, of course - and departed at different times. My tenure was the longest, and I was demobilized in the middle of October.

Editor: When you arrived in Iraq what did you find by way of a justice system?

Campbell:
It was not functioning. As a result of the war, most of the Iraqi government was not functioning, and I would estimate that no more than 5 to 10% of the courts were operating in any fashion at all. The courthouses and other buildings connected with the system of justice had been looted down to the fixtures and the wiring. The people employed by the system prior to the war stayed in their homes. Things were pretty desperate. The first thing that had to be established was a workplace - functioning offices and courtrooms.

Editor: Was there any type of functioning bar?

Campbell:
Yes, there was. Soon after my arrival, I met with the Iraqi Bar Association at their headquarters in Baghdad. The Association has about 15,000 members, and there are about 25,000 lawyers in total in the country. The headquarters building itself is in pretty good condition because the members stayed to protect it during the chaotic period just before and after the collapse of the regime. I met with this group early on during my time in Iraq.

One of the first actions I took was to remove the head of the Association in consequence of his Ba'ath Party affiliation. An election had been scheduled prior to the war, but events had interrupted the timetable. I went on to conduct an election for an interim leadership, and later the Association held an election for the permanent leadership. During all of this I was gratified to see that the bar consisted of a very vocal group of people and that free speech was alive and well. In addition, over a period of weeks I conducted meetings with hundreds of Association members and helped organize an effort through which Association members helped locate people arrested by the previous regime.

Editor: What about legal education. Were there any law schools in operation?

Campbell:
They were all closed at the time of our arrival, as a result of the war, but they were up and running in short order thereafter. The federal judges who came to Iraq to survey the court system were more inspired by the law students they encountered than by anything else connected with the country's legal structure. While many of the people in the court system are pessimistic - and after what they have been through, who can blame them? - the law students are looking at the future in a very positive way. Even where classrooms and libraries had been destroyed, they insisted on setting up in whatever facility was available and carrying on with their studies. Faculty members worked with them in these makeshift, but very inspiring, circumstances.

Editor: What has happened during the occupation to Iraq's justice system?

Campbell:
All of the courtrooms are now in operation. Some of them are in better shape than they had been before the war, others are worse. All are functioning. We have interviewed all of the judges in the country, some 750 in all, assessed their backgrounds and determined whether their alignment with the Ba'ath Party was such as to require dismissal. The ones who have survived this process are now functioning well, and it is their credibility which is providing credibility to the entire system of justice.
Of all of the things we accomplished, I think nothing is more important than putting a new leadership in place for the country's justice system. I hasten to add, however, that it was the Iraqis who selected that leadership and established their positions. The 25 members of the Coalition Provisional Authority, for example, appointed the Minister of Justice, who then met with me and Ambassador Paul Bremer. He indicated that a priority was establishing an independent judiciary - which had existed prior to Saddam, by the way - whereupon Mr. Bremer stated that if we could provide him with the appropriate legislation, he would execute it then and there. Within three days that legislation was signed into law. While the Minister of Justice is under the jurisdiction of the executive branch of government, the judges are now separate and distinct from that branch, and their appointments, salaries, assigned duties and so on are in the hands of the judges themselves. This was a major step forward.

Under the previous regime, if those in authority were displeased with a particular judge, he would fail to receive appointments, raises in salary, the appropriate benefits and so on. Of even greater moment for the society at large, the government established special tribunals for the purpose of bypassing the regular judicial system. This special system thoroughly compromised the regular system, and the cruelty and mayhem that it inflicted upon the Iraqi people was terrible.

In addressing many of the practices and procedures, and judicial vehicles, left over from the past, we had less of a problem than we had anticipated. We built an advisory team of approximately 100 people, most of whom were English-speaking Iraqi lawyers and many of whom had known the pre-Saddam justice system. We established a central criminal court, which was patterned after the system in the UK, for the most important cases. We abolished Saddam's criminal code and went back to that in place in 1969, something that made a very good impression on the Iraqi lawyers. In addition, at this time many of the buildings which belonged to the Ministry of Justice were occupied by squatters. It was an extraordinary challenge to get these people relocated, but it was important for us to do so and avoid creating a homeless population. We also obtained new buildings - previously used as palaces by Saddam's people - for the Ministry. All of these things had a very positive effect on the Iraqi justice system.

Editor: Please tell us about the status of human rights in Iraq. Has there been progress - irreversible progress - on this front?

Campbell:
I think so. Less than a year ago, the most barbaric penalties were imposed by the criminal justice system in Iraq - to say nothing of the regime itself. The death penalty has been suspended. Ambassador Bremer has enacted legislation that gives every accused the right to an attorney. Certainly the leadership in Iraq is aware of what is required for Iraq to achieve human rights standards that are acceptable in the eyes of the world. The country has a way to go, but it is going in the right direction.

Editor: What, in your opinion, must be accomplished in order for Iraq to become stabilized?

Campbell:
The security situation is getting better, but there is a very great need for a strong Iraqi police presence throughout the country. Since the end of hostilities, most of the policing has been carried out by young Americans who are doing an outstanding job. Many of them were 18-year olds in high school less than a year ago. The Army does a very good job of training these young people to be soldiers. Requiring them to take on a police function - in the absence of intensive police training - is not the best way to pacify the country. Although the situation is improving every day, they cannot police Iraq effectively. Until there is an adequate Iraqi police force in place, security will remain a challenge.

Editor: How long do you think it is going to take for the country to be stabilized?

Campbell:
I remind everyone of how long it took for Germany and Japan to become fully stabilized, and in the case of Korea the achievement of a true democracy did not take place until quite a while after the Korean War ended. Iraq is making progress, extraordinary progress, but the process is a long one, and it is going to take time. I take a very great personal satisfaction from having been of some help in moving this forward. I am mindful that our efforts affect the lives of 25 million people. I am also mindful, having been in Iraq during a very crucial period in the country's modern history, of the need for patience.