By Christen N. McCluney
Special to American Forces Press Service
Dec. 29, 2009 - U.S. forces are training and advising Iraqi officials in forensics, evidence collection, human rights and how a legal system is managed in a democracy. U.S. Marine Col. Darrel Halse serves as the Iraqi Training and Advisory Mission's rule of law director. He discussed the Iraqi transition from dictatorship to democracy during a "DoDLive" bloggers roundtable Dec. 23.
Halse said his directorate's mission is to ensure that Iraq Ministry of Interior leaders and law-enforcement officials become stakeholders in Iraq's post-Saddam, democratic legal culture.
Halse said his legal advisors make an effort to see that Iraqis preserve their unique cultural attributes as they embrace democratic principles of governance and civil law.
Another important factor, Halse said, is making sure the Iraqi people understand that they have their own laws that are to be followed by all citizens.
One of the greatest accomplishments his directorate takes pride in, Halse said, is moving away from the old Iraqi legal system's confession-based template for convictions and adopting the new system's requirement of collecting physical evidence, along with obtaining a confession or a statement.
"That was a huge, huge step forward. I believe in helping the defendant," Halse said.
Halse's directorate also is working to ensure that every Iraqi defendant can obtain a court-provided attorney, if needed, and that all defendants are told of their basic legal rights.
"Not all the Iraqi citizens know that," Halse said. "It's a change from what they've had for 15 to 17 years, or 20 years or more, so it will take time for that to flow down to the average Iraqi citizen walking on the street."
Iraqi-held detainees accused of a crime now have access to the Iraqi judicial system, Halse said. All detainees, he said, are seen by an investigative judge who will decide whether their case will go to trial and if so, are assigned a defense attorney.
Meanwhile, Iraqi lawyers are "building up their experience" that will be useful as they become defense attorneys, Halse said.
Yet, he said, more work remains to be done to correct inconsistencies in service and overcrowding at Iraqi detention facilities.
"The No. 1 thing that I would like to see worked on within the Ministry of Interior is to build additional facilities or move detainees, so the overcrowding does not become the No. 1 issue," Halse said.
Halse said his directorate is proud of the legal strides it is making in Iraq, noting it'll take time for changes to take hold.
"You have to understand that this concept [of law] is so new that it may take up to five years before everyone in Iraq understands that they have these human rights available to them," Halse said.
(Christen N. McCluney works in the Defense Media Activity's emerging media directorate.)