Denver Bar Association
April 2011
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New Dawn Journal: Helping Iraqis Improve Their Legal System

by Capt. Jeffrey Sherman

 Capt. Jeff Sherman (third from the left) and members of the Army and Air Force meet with Iraqi Investigative Judges at the National Information and Investigation Agency, which is the Iraqi FBI.

Editor’s Note: This is an occasional column by Jeffrey Sherman, who will share his experiences as a deployed Reserve Officer as part of Operation New Dawn in Iraq. This column delves into rule of law in Iraq.


hortly before I deployed to Iraq, headlines announced that combat operations in Iraq had ended. The news showed images of convoys rolling out of Iraq into Kuwait to board planes back to the U.S. My friends and family were confused. Why would I have to go to Iraq if the war was over and everyone was leaving? The quick and dirty answer is that while combat operations may have ended, stability operations are stronger than ever.

As part of Operation New Dawn, I am one of 48,000 U.S. service members conducting stability operations in Iraq. These operations focus on advising, assisting, and training the government of Iraq and the Iraqi Security Forces. In conjunction with teams from the Departments of State and Justice, we work with the Iraqi government and non-governmental agencies to build Iraq’s civil capacity. My unit, the 2nd Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 25th Infantry Division, was re-designated as the 2-25 Advise and Assist Brigade to reflect the change in our mission.

Our Brigade Legal Section is tasked with helping to create a functioning rule of law system in the Diyala and Salah ad Din provinces. It has been a daunting task. We have seen that criminals can regularly buy their way out of jail. Those who are falsely accused often must resort to buying their freedom, as well. Prison conditions are often shocking—prisoners often live packed together such that some must stand while others sleep. Suspicious prison "accidents" occur with disturbing frequency.

Capt. Jeff Sherman (left), with Air Force and Army personnel, meets with Lt. Col. Abdal Gahar, Technical Director of the National Information and Investigation Agency.
Capt. Jeff Sherman (left), with Air Force and Army personnel, meets with Lt. Col. Abdal Gahar, Technical Director of the National Information and Investigation Agency

I conducted my first Key Leader Engagement (KLE) shortly after arriving in Iraq. That morning, instead of heading to the JAG office in my camouflage uniform and soft cap with a cup of coffee, I put on full "battle rattle," including body armor, Kevlar helmet, first aid kit, infrared signaling device, weapon, and full load of ammunition. I marched to the Provincial Reconstruction Team headquarters and was assigned to ride in one of the several Stryker armored vehicles on base. This would be my first trip in a Stryker and my first foray outside the wire.

Strykers are very high-tech personnel carriers with advanced armor. Even the driver and vehicle commander are protected by armor and use thick, bullet-proof glass periscopes to see. Because of the extra protection they provide from rifle fire and improvised explosive devices (IEDs), soldiers consider them significantly superior to the Humvees that were previously used. Of course, insurgents are always coming up with newer, more deadly weapons, such as Explosively Formed Penetrators (EFPs). EFPs use shaped charges to turn a metal liner (usually copper) into a superheated jet of metal that can penetrate our armor. Consequently, we are continually improving our vehicles to try to stay ahead of our enemies.

My Stryker was filled with State Department officials, linguists, and our security detail—the infantry troops who lead us through the city of Baqubah and stand guard while we meet with our Iraqi counterparts. The crew showed me many of the high-tech features of the vehicle, such as the computerized targeting system, which enables the gunner to engage enemy targets with a joystick, like a video game.

After arriving at the Diyala Governance Center in Baqubah, we set off with our security detail to begin our KLE. Our security detail was heavily armed and carried communications and first aid gear. However, to get to the Diyala Court of Appeals, we had to walk through busy city streets, including a narrow choke point I feared would make a perfect point for a sniper to take aim. I knew that even an extremely well-trained and well-equipped Army officer accompanied by a security detail can’t stop a well-hidden sniper or IED. So, I moved quickly, with my head on a swivel, to get to our destination. My obsession with cable TV has come in handy in Iraq—I used the serpentine running tactics that I learned from Peter Falk in the movie "The In-Laws" to move through town.

We entered the ramshackle Diyala Court of Appeals through its rubble strewn exterior. I couldn’t help but compare it to the beautiful courthouse in Denver where the Tenth Circuit sits. Michael Vaccaro, an advisor from the U.S. Department of Justice, led us into the Chief Judge’s chambers. We exchanged greetings with Chief Judge Salih and, using our linguist, sat down to discuss business. The Chief Judge’s chambers, like many government offices in Iraq, are a strange contradiction. It has the trappings of wealth, such as satellite television (which is never turned off), blaring cell phones, and ornate (even garish) gold-leaf furniture. Nevertheless, it also reflects the province’s history of lagging economic development with cracked walls and ceilings, bare fluorescent light fixtures, and archaic, nonfunctioning computers.

Chief Judge Salih and the other judges wear Western-styled business suits. However, their assistants dress akin to members of the "Jersey Shore" cast. So, if nothing else, we are impacting their wardrobes.

In Iraq, the ritual of drinking tea together is integral to building relationships and accompanies every meeting. During our meeting, every few minutes, the Chief Judge pressed a button on his desk to summon his assistant. The assistant bustled in with, successively, bottled water, Arab coffee, chai tea, then Arab coffee again, and finally, soda. Arab coffee is thick and very hot. It is brought to each person, who is expected to quickly drink the cup, which is refilled until the person indicates by shaking his hand that he is done. The cup is then brought to the next person, where the routine is repeated. Needless to say, I was well-hydrated and caffeinated by the end of the KLE.

Members of our JAG team participate in KLEs like the one I described with Iraqi officials several times each week. At these meetings, we consult with judges on a variety of issues. We advise them in improving their systems so that arrested people are neither released before charges can be filed, nor held unfairly without the opportunity for reasonable bail. We counsel Iraqi investigators in developing systems for preparing and presenting search and arrest warrant applications that comply with Iraqi law and notions of due process. We support the Iraqi Inspector General’s staff in the investigation of incidents of prisoner abuse. We train judges and police regarding the use of high-technology evidence in terrorism cases.

Difficult work remains in Iraq. U.S. and Iraqi forces are still targeted by insurgents and we cannot relax our vigilance during Operation New Dawn. However, because of the courage, hard work, and brave sacrifices of the service members who fought here before us, we are in a position to focus on advising, assisting, and training the Iraqis to build their burgeoning and still tenuous democracy. If the Iraqis succeed, it could advance the fight for human rights not only in Iraq but all over the world. It is a mission in which I am proud to participate. D


Jeffrey Sherman practices corporate and securities law at Faegre & Benson LLP in Denver. He is serving as a Judge Advocate with the 2nd Stryker Advise and Assist Brigade, 25th Infantry Division at FOB Warhorse, Iraq.


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