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Bar News - April 20, 2007

Iraqi Legal Advisors Receive Military Law Training from NH Judge



Editorís Note: Hon. John J. Coughlin sent NH Bar News the following dispatch on his recent activity as a deployed US Army Judge Advocate General (JAG) officer in Baghdad.


On March 11, 2007, Dr. Gahib, general counsel for the Iraq Minister of Defense, welcomed 28 new military legal advisors to a three-week training course. Twenty-five of the students are new lawyers and second lieutenants fresh from two months of military training. Of the 25 second lieutenants, eight are women. This is a remarkable fact because these eight are the first women legal advisors in the Iraqi military. Upon completion of the training, the officers will be assigned to units throughout the Iraqi military.


The legal advisors will undergo extensive training on military law subjects, including: rules of engagement; the law of armed conflict; the Geneva Convention; and investigations. The Council of Representatives in Iraq recently passed the military penal and procedures law. The laws are currently at the Presidency Council and when approved, will become effective 60 days after publication in the Official Gazette. These laws form the basis of the Iraqi military justice system and are similar to the United States militaryís Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ). The students are the first legal advisors trained in the new law. The advisors will assist their assigned units in training and advising unit commanders, disciplinary officers, and soldiers on their rights and responsibilities under the rule of law.


The course takes place in the former Council of Ministers building, which is part of a complex dominated by a main building of steel and concrete on the outside and marble and chandeliers on the inside. The building sustained heavy damage during Liberation (an Iraqi term) by the coalition forcesí bombing of Baghdad in 2003 (see photo). After the fall of Baghdad, the wiring and fixtures were stripped and pulled from the walls and ceilings by looters. Saddam Husseinís image on murals and paintings was removed but his name and initials are ingrained in the marble and trim-work of the building. Electrical wires are spliced together by electrical tape and hang over the hallways and into the rooms providing light and air conditioners for offices. The facility is now the home of the 5th Brigade of the 6th Division (Iraq Army).


Before the start of the course, the bicultural advisor, the translator and I helped an electrician from the unit wire power to the front of the classroom for the computer and presentation projector. The two front windows are boarded with plywood and covered with legal advisor course banners. The Iraqi flag hangs on both walls. The floor is covered in marble tiles. The ceilings are damaged. Conditions are rough, but we have lights, a computer, projector, instructors and a makeshift classroom full of students.


The students are bright, young, and eager as they engage the instructors, asking questions and listening to the answers intently. The students are from Baghdad and arrive in civilian clothing, because it is too dangerous to walk the streets of Baghdad in military uniform. Helicopters on patrol fly overhead while armored humvees and personnel carriers from the 5th Brigade park in front of the main building. The brigade is an active combat unit heavily involved with missions of the Baghdad Security Plan.

Students eat lunch at the 5th Brigade dining facility. Lunch consists of a simple soldierís meal of rice (with either chicken, lamb or fish), beans, fresh vegetables, local bread and water or a soft drink. The meal is completed with dessert consisting of an apple or an orange with the national drink of a hot, very sweet tea.


I am the Ministry of Defense liaison for MNSTC-I Office of the Staff Judge Advocate. I work closely with the legal advisors who are responsible for the training of the Iraqi military legal advisors on law-related issues. Maj. Hussein and 1st Lt. Ali are my prime contacts. Make no mistake about it, the new legal advisors and everyone here is at risk. We are required to wear body armor and have weapons at the ready when we venture away from our FOB (Forward Operating Base). However, the future for the Iraqi military and the people of Iraq is bright and hopeful. These young military lawyers and officers serve as a microcosm for the Iraqi people taking responsibility for and the challenges of their emerging democracy.


On April 1, 2007, Dr. Gahib congratulated the legal advisors at a graduation ceremony for successfully completing the extensive three-week course. Unfortunately, one of the students decided not to complete the course as her life was threatened by terrorists for attending the course and serving in the Iraqi military. On the brighter side, a woman legal advisor and second lieutenant finished second in her class and received an award from Gahib for finishing as one of the top three of the class


Another legal advisorsí training course is scheduled to begin in mid-April with new legal advisors consisting mostly of new lawyers and second lieutenants. As with the class before them, these young lawyers and officers represent the hope for the new Iraq and have taken up the challenge to make a difference in the emerging Iraq Democracy and be bound, as we are bound in the United States, to the rule of law.


Hon. John J. Coughlin is a Derry District Court judge and an activated Army National Guard Judge Advocate General (JAG) officer currently serving in Iraq.


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