Iraqis on Slow Road to Building Judicial System From the rubble of a dictatorship, Iraqis and Americans are working together to create a functioning judicial system in Iraq. But teaching judges to be judges and introducing basic legal concepts have proved complicated and difficult.
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Iraqis on Slow Road to Building Judicial System

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Iraqis on Slow Road to Building Judicial System

Iraqis on Slow Road to Building Judicial System

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ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.

Iraq has been trying to create a judicial system out of the rubble of the Saddam Hussein dictatorship. The process has proven to be both complicated and difficult.

As NPR's Dina Temple-Raston reports from Baghdad, there is rampant intimidation of witnesses and judges.

Here's the second part in our series On the Rule of Law in Iraq.

DINA TEMPLE-RASTON: There is nothing welcoming about the Law and Order Complex in East Baghdad. Essentially, it's a fortress — all 12-foot blast walls and guard towers.

William Gallo is the director of the Law and Order Task Force, an American military unit helping the Iraqi government redesign the judiciary.

Mr. WILLIAM GALLO (Director, Law and Order Task Force): Continue your normal activity. (Unintelligible) ask you to remain to your form one.

TEMPLE-RASTON: He's walking me around the complex. It's known as a mini Green Zone. The Green Zone is the highly fortified compound in central Baghdad. The name is ironic given that the complex is monochromatic - all beige buildings, bland trailers and gravel. Judges live here, work here, and in many ways are held prisoner here.

Mr. GALLO: We're in a counterinsurgency, sort of, mindset right now, where people are attacking not only judges, but also Iraqi investigators and witnesses. And so in order for the system really to work, we have to provide a secure environment.

TEMPLE-RASTON: There are about 1,200 judges in all of Iraq. Three dozen of them have been murdered since 2003.

Again, William Gallo.

Mr. GALLO: If you can intimidate that aspect of the judicial system - the judges - then it doesn't matter how many witnesses you have and it doesn't matter how many investigators you have or prosecutors. If the judges don't feel like they can make a decision in a secure environment that's fair and evenhanded then the whole system is going to crumble.

TEMPLE-RASTON: The judicial assassinations are only the beginning. The little hinges that make a judicial system function — legal traditions, precedents, even something as simple as court transcripts — just don't exist in Iraq.

The chief investigative judge in one of Baghdad's Central Criminal Courts, Judge Faiq Zaidan(ph), says this is still a place where judges take their cues from politicians.

Mr. FAIG ZAIDAN (Judge, Central Criminal Court, Baghdad): (Through translator) I've worked in the legal system since 1999, and I have been a witness to two kinds of legal systems before and after Saddam. During the Saddam era, justice wasn't independent. Before 2003, if a judge refused to listen to the suggestions of politicians, Saddam put him in jail. Now, we have to convince people we operate differently, independently.

TEMPLE-RASTON: Creating a system that inspires that kind of confidence is the job of Philip Lynch. He's the rule of law coordinator for Iraq. He says the experiences of the Saddam years continue to haunt the present.

Mr. PHILIP LYNCH (Rule of Law Coordinator, U.S. Embassy Baghdad): Witness intimidation here right now is a huge issue because witnesses sometimes are afraid to tell the truth because they're afraid that they will be killed or their families will be killed. That's going to take some time. Judges understanding that no one in authority, no dictator is going to tell them how to decide cases that they have to weigh the evidence and determine what happens.

TEMPLE-RASTON: That, he says, will take some time too. The Iraqi judicial system is based on the French model. That means that evidence is gathered and processed by an investigative judge who has wide powers, similar to those of a U.S. grand jury. In the U.S., we have an adversarial system in which the prosecution - defense and judge - all work independently and challenge each other to come to a conclusion.

In Iraq, essentially one person does all that, and that one person - the judge - is having to adopt a whole new mindset.

Mr. LYNCH: Adopting the rule of law is going to be hard and it's going to be a long process. It's not something that's going to happen overnight.

TEMPLE-RASTON: One extraordinary obstacle Lynch hadn't anticipated is that judges here believed they have an innate ability - a gut sense when someone is lying or telling the truth.

Mr. LYNCH: I ask a judge, how can you tell if they're telling the truth or lying? And they'll tell me, I'm a judge, I can tell.

TEMPLE-RASTON: As Lynch sees it, for the Iraqi people to have any confidence at all in the Iraqi court system, judges will have to operate differently. They will have to accept the evidence and weigh the facts in open court. Soothsaying truth and falsehood won't work.

Mr. LYNCH: I don't think the people of Iraq will ever have confidence in a judge's decision if that's what he bases it on. They need to understand that for the Iraqi people to have confidence in them, they need to explain what they're doing.

TEMPLE-RASTON: Haider Mousel(ph) has been in Rusafa prison for 18 months on terrorism charges. He says he's a political prisoner. And as he sees it, justice in Iraq is about politics, not evidence.

Mr. HAIDEL MOUSEL: There's no justice in Iraq. The people in top position, they don't care about people. They care about themselves. They use the government money for themselves. Even the judicial system here is no good, and I feel ashamed. So the whole system is too lazy and too slow.

TEMPLE-RASTON: Faith in the legal system is about more than just judicial reform. U.S. officials say it is the only way to end sectarian violence here. If Iraqis actually believe the courts will address their grievances, regardless of their sect or political affiliations, the hope is that they will stop taking the law into their own hands.

Dina Temple-Raston, NPR News, Baghdad.

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