CSI Iraq: Teaching Iraqis Crime Scene Investigation
MARY LOUISE KELLY, host:
This is MORNING EDITION, from NPR News. Good morning. I'm Mary Louise Kelly.
RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
And I'm Renee Montagne.
By the end of August, the United States plans to have no more than 50,000 troops in Iraq, and the U.S. troop withdrawal is to be complete by the end of next year.
In a moment, we'll ask the head of the United Nations mission in Baghdad what that will mean for Iraq. Now a look at how the U.S. is ramping up training for Iraqi security forces. The frequent bombings and ordinary crimes like robberies have added urgency to training Iraqis in one key area of law enforcement: forensics.
NPR's Susannah George has more.
Mr. TERENCE GLENNON (International Police Advisor): If it's on the ground, it is evidence. Attention to detail. OK. (unintelligible)
SUSANNAH GEORGE: Terence Glennon worked for years in the L.A. County Sheriff's Department. He's now an international police adviser in Iraq. Glennon is teaching a class of Iraqi policemen CSI: how to investigate a crime scene and gather evidence.
Mr. GLENNON: Major, you are in charge. The crime scene starts right here. This is your crime scene.
GEORGE: The class ranges from basic evidence collection - such as gathering discarded cigarette butts from a crime scene - to fingerprinting, DNA samples and measuring blood splatter.
Unidentified Man: Shall I (unintelligible)?
Mr. GLENNON: This is your crime scene, not mine.
Unidentified Man: OK, (unintelligible).
GEORGE: Dr. Salas Hadisada(ph) is a criminal law professor at Baghdad University. He says that forensic science and criminal law is something new to the Iraqi people.
Dr. SALAS HADISADA (Professor, Criminal Law, Baghdad University): We are isolated completely from the outside world. We didn't have cooperation with the universities or with the institutions. I mean, DNA in Iraq was something that we are just hear in TV's and movies.
GEORGE: Since the overthrow of Saddam Hussein in 2003, Iraq has opened up. And Iraq's legal system, once based almost solely on eye-witness testimony, also began to change.
Police advisor Terence Glennon.
Mr. GLENNON: There's no more hearsay. It's no more he did it. He did it. He did it, who's got the best story, who yells the loudest wins, like it used to be. Now the judges are demanding that the evidence show what the police are alleging. It's a huge step.
GEORGE: Earlier this year, a court in Baghdad used DNA evidence in a criminal case for one of the first times. An Iraqi analyst from the Joint Forensics Team presented DNA from a fingerprint left behind on a piece of tape holding together an unexploded bomb. The judge accepted the evidence and ordered the arrest of the suspect.
Captain John Olson is a legal expert in the 4th Stryker Brigade 2nd Infantry Division. He says this case was a big step forward for the Iraqi judicial system.
Captain JOHN OLSON (Legal Expert, 4th Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 2nd Infantry Division): You know, the kind of things that we would take for granted watching a show like "CSI" or, you know, a crime movie, the kind of thing that the analysts had to really explain to this particular judge. And the analyst broke down how each of us has a particular DNA and how that sets us apart. A light bulb kind of went on in the judge's mind, and you could see on his face that, OK, it's definitely this guy. And that was pretty neat.
GEORGE: But Iraq still has a long way to go. The Baghdad forensics lab is operating out of a shell of a building. The lab was attacked in a suicide car bombing last January. Most rooms still lack windows, chunks of plaster hang from the ceiling, the third floor, where the DNA lab was just getting started, is still too dangerous to visit.
Major Munim Abdel Haidar(ph) is the director of the lab.
Mr. MUNIM ABDEL HAIDAR (Forensics Lab Director): We didn't stop our job. Any investigation without our role would be useless.
GEORGE: The U.S. supports the Baghdad forensics lab by training staff and donating equipment. But General(ph) Haider says the aid doesn't match the lab's needs.
Mr. HAIDER: It is not in enough, but acceptable. We hope more and more.
GEORGE: And poor facilities aren't the only thing getting in the way of collecting evidence from crime scenes. General Haider, the director of Baghdad's forensics lab, says that after the recent attack on Iraq's Central Bank, Iraqi security forces didn't allow forensic investigators into the crime scene. They were only allowed to take photographs from outside the bank.
Mr. HAIDER: Then they couldn't do anything more than this, because the area was blocked by the commands of Baghdad.
GEORGE: General Haider went on to say that what really needs to change is public awareness of how important gathering evidence is, and that's something that U.S. training courses and equipment donations cannot change overnight.
Back at the training center, police adviser Terence Glennon concludes class with his golden rule.
Mr. GLENNON: What's the only thing that does not lie?
(Soundbite of crowd chatter)
Mr. GLENNON: The evidence. The evidence alone will put him in jail.
GEORGE: Susannah George, NPR News.