Corruption a Challenge to Iraqi Legal System
William Dyer speaks to cadets about law in Iraq. -- VMI Photo by John Robertson IV.
LEXINGTON, Va., Oct. 21, 2011 – U.S. Army Reserve Lt. Col. William Dyer ’84, staff judge advocate for the U.S. Army’s 335th Signal Command, gave a “boots on the ground perspective” on establishing functioning judicial systems in post-war Iraq and Afghanistan in a talk at VMI last night. Titled “Building States One Law at a Time: Lessons Learned in Iraq and Afghanistan,” the talk was sponsored by the VMI Pre-Law Society.
Dyer drew on his experience stabilizing the Iraqi judicial system and providing legal guidance to support operations in Iraq during his deployment to Baghdad in 2003.
“The principal objective we had was to create justice systems that are transparent, just, and accessible,” said Dyer.
The greatest obstacle to establishing this kind of a justice system in Iraq was the systemic corruption among judges, lawyers, and the police, to which a generation of Iraqis had become accustomed under the rule of Saddam Hussein.
“Out of 1,000 judges in Iraq, about 900 were in the Bath party, the Bath party being Saddam’s party,” said Dyer. “The nightmare we had was finding out who the good ones and the bad ones were.”
Dyer described seeing children interacting with a police officer in the streets of Baghdad as an example of how progress is being made in establishing a credible judicial system.
“The next generation of Iraqis is becoming accustomed to not be afraid of the police,” said Dyer. “We’re reversing the great weight of culture that has existed for generations.”
Dyer enumerated the institutions necessary for a functioning judicial system in any society: judges, lawyers, police, investigators, courthouses, and penal facilities. All of these institutions had to be re-established in the aftermath of the invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan.
“A big challenge in Afghanistan is that there is so much illiteracy,” said Dyer. “We disseminated hundreds of picture books.”
In addition to that challenge, the decentralized nature of Afghanistan’s society means justice is closely tied to local custom.
Despite the many obstacles encountered, Dyer sees his work as having benefited the Iraqi people substantially, both in the legal system reforms and elsewhere.
“I worked with the Corps of Engineers to develop a program for contracting with Iraqis,” said Dyer. “We made a huge impact on individuals.”