Friday, May 4, 2007

Lawyers in Iraq

Yesterday I had the opportunity to attend an alumni "roundtable" event with a UC grad who volunteered to go to Iraq and help set up the justice system there. He was an assistant attorney general in Wisconsin and basically just "raised his hand" when they asked for people to help- he said he felt that even though he was a civilian, when you can do something to help, you should. It was a fantastic talk and I wish more people had attended. It was especially great to get a non-political, non-military perspective of the war. He didn't say what his politics were and he never answered any of the questions in a way that would reveal whether he was a democrat or republican- he just answered from his own experience living in the country for 18 months. I left with so much respect for the civilians over there trying to help- we hear a lot about the soldiers, and of course I had an enormous amount of respect for them, but there are a lot of non-military over there as well. It also added a new dimension to the "pull out" plan- I hate this war and want the soldiers to be able to come home- but the US has made a big mess of a lot of things and the minute the soldiers are gone all the civilians have to leave too.

He talked about the de-baathification (Bremer's biggest mistake and there's a large pool of mistakes to choose from) and how that eliminated nearly every qualified judge in the country. If you were anyone who valued living past tomorrow of course you were technically a Baathist. Anyway, you can't have a stable country without some kind of judicial system and you can't have a judicial system without judges. Not only are there not many judges to start with but they're a huge target for terrorists and insurgency groups. You could hear the frustration and sadness in the alum's voice as he talked about these brave men he had met with who were gunned down in a marketplace weeks later. He talked of the tens of thousands of pre-trial detainees kept in awful conditions all around the country that have no chance of due process until there are judges that can hear their cases. In addition to the civilian lawyers there are oil men, economists, financial advisers, etc. all helping to rebuild a country that we had a large part in tearing down. I can't say the entire idea of going to Iraq was wrong (well I could...), but it was most definitely wrong to go in with the arrogance that we'd be out in 6 weeks (or "certainly not six months" in the words of Rumsfeld) and with no understanding of the country and its culture.

There's a lot more I'd like to write, but it's basically frustration with the government combined with awe for the people who are working hard to make it better.

1 comment:

  1. What a mess Iraq is. Thank you for a different perspective on that country's unsolvable situation. The war has affectecd so many areas, it's mind-boggling. Those who have directed the US into this "situation" need to attend discussions like the one you describe.

    "Situation" is Bush's favorite substitute to use instead of war, disaster, screw up, etc.