Bar News - January 4, 2008
A Light in the Dark: Iraqi 6th Army Opens First Courthouse
By: Hon. John Coughlin
| Lt. Col. Hon. John Coughlin drives a heavily armored Surburban through the streets of Baghdad.
Editorís Note: The following is a first-person report by NH Bar member Army Lt. Col. John Coughlin, who recently witnessed the first courts-martial at a new courthouse in Baghdad, Iraq. Coughlin assisted Iraqis in completing and furnishing the courthouse at Old Muthana, a former airport in Baghdad. Coughlin is a NH District Court Judge.
It was a beautiful autumn morning in Baghdad, sunny and cool, as the "Jundi" (Arabic for soldier) from the 6th Division Iraqi Army stood before the three-judge panel at the newly-constructed Baghdad Trial Court. The young soldier, charged with assaulting and showing disrespect to an Iraqi First Lieutenant, stood in a specially designed enclosed stand common in the Iraqi military and civilian court system. The judges, prosecutor and defense each have their own specially-designed benches and the witness stand is truly a stand, where the witness does not sit, but rather stands during testimony. All the courtroom furniture was crafted on site to furnish the once-empty courtroom.
The Chief Military Judge is the central figure in trials like these. The Brigadier General conducts direct and cross-examinations, with questions from and for any party coming through the Chief Judge.
During the morning session, the alleged victim and three witnesses testified after being sworn in by the Chief Judge, who held out the Koran for witnesses to place their hands upon. Eleven witnesses were scheduled to testify, but after four witnesses testified, the Chief Judge called a recess and sent the case back to the 6th Division for additional investigation.
The first test of the system was a resounding success. The Chief Judge was tough, but fair and judicious in his questioning of the alleged victim, the defendant and witnesses. Although different from the US military justice system, the Iraqi military system provides due process and basic rights to soldiers and provides the necessary tools for commanders to instill good order and discipline in their units.
The Iraqi Military Penal and Procedures Laws became effective on July,8 and September 28, respectively.
The Old Muthana Airport in downtown Baghdad is a discontinued airport and now the site of the 6th Division of the Iraqi Army. A judicial complex was constructed on the old airport grounds to include the Baghdad Trial Court and the Court of Causation. Trial courts were also built in Mosul (Northern Iraq) and in Basra (Southern Iraq).
The new military justice laws and the new military court facilities offer a bright future for the country of Iraq striving for freedom and democracy through the Rule of Law.