By Christen N. McCluney
Special to American Forces Press Service
Jan. 11, 2010 - A team of U.S. forces is seeing its work pay off in ensuring that a court system created to police Iraqi law enforcement follows the law in things like due process. "We want the Iraqi people to have confidence in their police force. We want them to be able to maintain their own security internally, within their nation," Air Force Maj. Joseph A. Musacchia, deputy director of the Rule of Law Directorate for the Iraq Training and Advising Mission, said during a Jan. 7 "DoDLive" bloggers roundtable.
The Interior Ministry's Internal Security Forces Court System is one of the three major legal systems created in Iraq two years ago. The court system handles cases of wrongdoing among the ministry's 500,000 officers.
"This is something that's extremely significant because it's creating a functioning system of discipline and something to enforce on the criminal justice system for these particular members of the ministry," Musacchia said.
The court system is primarily made up of career police officers who later earned their law degrees and were selected to be members of the court. In selecting judges, Musacchia said, officials make sure that they are persons of caliber. Iraqi Maj. Gen. Abdul Kadhim, chief justice of the courts, doesn't care what tribe the judges are from or their political party, he said, as long as they are men of integrity and look at everyone in a fair and impartial manner.
"That is the litmus test that he uses for the selection of those judges that go to be part of these [judicial] panels," Musacchia said.
Musacchia said his team ensures that all judges understand how evidence is collected and what to look for when they receive it.
When the court system began, nearly 90 percent of cases were returned to the judges because of problems with the evidence collected, Musacchia said. The mentoring team analyzed what was going wrong in the process and located certain regions that needed enhanced training.
By June of 2009, only 18 percent of cases were returned.
"To go from almost 90 percent of the cases being returned to 18 percent is quite an accomplishment," Musacchia said.
The team's analysis also found that certain regions in Iraq were receiving much larger case loads than others, he said.
When the courts were stood up, each region was assigned four judges. The team began to look at ways to overcome the pressure placed on larger regions like Baghdad and decided that a good way to prepare court leadership for the future was to have them figure out the problem and solve it on their own, with only hints and guidance from the team.
The leadership was able to get approval to stand up multiple courts within the regions in smaller divisions, which will be able to break up the case load based on territorial concerns.
Musacchia said he is not sure this will all be set up before U.S. forces transfer authority, but they are identifying who needs to be judges, who should be support personnel and making sure everyone receives training.
It will take about 20 months to know that the system is rooted, has a strong foundation and is increasing the transparency of the courts, Musacchia said.
"They are starting to move forward with the publications of decisions, trying to establish a public affairs office, [and] ensuring that they're going to continue to be an evidence-based discipline system," he said.
He added that the Iraqi people are starting to have faith in their police force.
"When they know that their police are being held accountable, through a transparent, accountable and a predictable discipline system, then we have the foundation for any democracy to flourish."
(Christen N. McCluney works in the Defense Media Activity's emerging media directorate.)