News: Open talk leads to better legal system
Story by Spc. Maurice Galloway
CONTINGENCY OPERATING BASE BASRA, Iraq — Through a coordinated effort to improve relationships between Iraqi police and Iraqi judges, the Provincial Reconstruction Team Basrah and 17th Fires Brigade Legal Team set up a conference, Nov. 7, at the Palace of Justice in Basrah.
The conference, designed as a structured forum of discussion between the IP and IJ, lasted four hours and covered topics such as the responsibilities of their respective investigation officers and the current state of the facilities which house Basrah's prisoners.
"Our purpose today is to combine our efforts to come up with joint solutions that will increase our effectiveness and make Basrah safer," said Chief Judge Khaz'al Da'bol Qasim. "Only by working together will we be able to assess this current system and implement a strategy based from all the encompassing information and target key problems that we must improve."
A questionnaire regarding the roles and responsibilities of the investigation officers was handed out at the meeting's beginning. The form asked questions that helped spark debate on the effectiveness of the IP and IJ investigative process.
"We can't prosecute anyone until we have evidence against that person; that's why it's important to arrive at the scene of these crimes immediately and conduct a thorough investigation," said Dr. Fallah, a lawyer with the Al Maqel court. "This is something that the investigation officers are currently failing to do. We need more experienced professionals in these positions to handle such a crucial part of the judiciary process."
Capt. Adann Haydar, an officer with the Karmat Ali Police Station agreed that more extensive training was required so the investigation officers could learn to better perform the duties required of them, and stated they would request assistance from their partners at the 17th Fires Brigade and British civil police to conduct training sessions. "We need more training and equipment to be able to perform all that is being asked of us," said Haydar, "but we also need the help of the judges and the ministry to provide us with the proper equipment and operating structure."
The IP has the manpower, but need improved techniques and training, said Spc. Keagan W. Geer, a 17th Fires Brigade paralegal and native of Stanton, Iowa.
"I feel Iraqi police have the personnel to conduct investigations properly," he said. "What they need is more defined roles and advanced training, specifically in the areas of criminal behavior, crime scene evaluation and interviewing techniques."
After a brief intermission, the conference shifted focus toward the facilities currently housing Basrah's prisoners. Complaints of out-dated buildings with rooms barely large enough to hold 30 detainees each, insufficient facilities to hold female and juvenile detainees, and lack of proper processing equipment were among the main concerns.
With more than 500 detainees currently being held, these facilities are filled beyond capacity. Some detainees are held with very little evidence against them, while others have been detained for almost two years without legal counsel.
"We are addressing the situation of holding detainees for extended periods of time," said Iraqi police Brig. Gen. Eedan. "The training that we'll conduct will include step by step instruction on how to properly evaluate a crime scene, gather evidence and question witnesses, all of which will help us to alleviate our over-populated facilities and put in place a better judicial system."
Along with Chief Judge Kha'zel Da'bol Qasim, members of PRT Basrah and the 17th FB legal team are developing an "Access to Justice Project," which would create at least 20 new jobs for junior attorneys. These attorneys would serve as public defenders, providing the detained individuals with legal representation.
At the conference, the IP and IJ were able to openly discuss the issues hindering the development of an integrated judicial system. This success led the two groups to agree to meet monthly in hopes of developing stronger relations and solving the current issues.
"The PRT did a fantastic job of opening the lines of communication between the two sides," said Geer. "This is the only way that the problems they are facing will have any chance of seeing an eventual solution, which will only benefit the people of Basrah as a community."