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Bar News - October 15, 2010


NH Judge’s Anti-Corruption Mission in Iraq Ends in Disenchantment – Part I

By:


Art Brennan on a C-130 cargo aircraft at Baghdad International Airport in Iraq.
Retired Superior Court Justice Arthur Brennan went to Iraq in the summer of 2007 to work for the U.S. State Department on eradicating corruption in the Iraqi government. He had high expectations for helping to restore the rule of law in a nation at war.

His stay was cut short, chiefly due to his wife’s cancer diagnosis, but not before his hopes for restoring justice in a troubled nation were dashed by the duplicity of his own government.

In early July 2007, Brennan, then 60, landed in Iraq one month after he had retired from the superior court. He was set to begin working for the U.S. State Department as deputy director of the Iraq Reconstruction Management Office, which included direction of the Office of Accountability and Transparency (OAT), whose mission was to advance anticorruption efforts and encourage accountability and transparency in the government of Iraq.

"None of us got more than about four hours sleep a night because of the constant noise of aircraft, the bombs and gunfire in Baghdad and rockets and mortar fire on the Green Zone," recalled Brennan. "The U.S. Embassy was located in Saddam Hussein’s former Republican Palace. U.S. State Department personnel lived not far away in sandbagged trailers between the palace and the Tigris."

Brennan had been preparing for his Iraq stint for months. "I studied on my own and communicated with the State Department and the Embassy from early January to mid-June, mainly by e-mail. Then, in mid-June of 2007, I went for two weeks of State Department training in the DC area."

The Embassy believed that Brennan’s military and judicial experience would be invaluable in coordinating anticorruption efforts between the State Department and the U.S. military. He had served from 1969-72 with the 82d Airborne Division as a platoon leader and paratrooper/jumpmaster and had spent 20 years in the U.S. Army Reserves, retiring with the rank of major.

This was also not Brennan’s first effort in bringing the Rule of Law to a foreign society, either. For several years, while a state judge, Brennan had worked with the International Human Rights Law Group on the Cambodian Court Reform Project. He and his wife Nancy had traveled throughout the Cambodian provinces in the summer of 1995 teaching the elements of the country’s new domestic violence laws.

At the Embassy

When first recruited by the State Department, Brennan had been sent a lengthy job description for the OAT position and found that he was to interface with several Iraqi and U.S. entities. "I was to work with the CPI (Commission of Public Integrity, the Iraqi equivalent to the FBI), the Iraqi Inspectors General, the prime minister’s office and the judiciary – as well as the U.S. military. OAT was also expected to reach out to officials at the provincial level," said Brennan.

During the six months between his acceptance of the job and his arrival in Iraq, Brennan was led to believe he would be managing a professional staff of 20, including translators and interpreters. However, when he arrived in Baghdad, Brennan found only five staff members awaiting him. Furthermore, his predecessor, who was to spend time orienting him to the U.S. Embassy bureaucracy before leaving, was already gone.

Danger was everywhere. "One of our greatest needs was for Iraqi translators – but that was a dangerous job," Brennan said. "Translators are obviously invaluable to the peace process, but were (and are) often kidnapped and sometimes murdered. One woman translator always worked late – probably because she thought it was safer to go home in the dark."

While many Americans working for U.S. agencies professed concerns about the rampant corruption in the Iraqi agencies, nobody was keeping accurate records of what was going on, Brennan found. He says that he soon learned that lots of people were making money on the war and some were getting rich. He says a senior JAG officer told him: "Judge, be careful. Your job is dangerous and not only from the Iraqis. There are people here who would be glad to see this thing last forever."

A Life in the Green Zone

Brennan discovered that many American law enforcement officers revered the CPI’s Commissioner, Judge Radhi al-Radhi "as an honest and courageous leader." Radhi was trying to investigate the widespread corruption, but Prime Minister Al-Maliki did not want him to continue, said Brennan. Too many ministry officials and political allies were involved.

When Al-Maliki ordered Judge Radhi to stop investigating the ministries, Radhi continued anyway, but the human cost was very high. Thirty-one members of his commission and 12 of their family members were murdered. Still, Radhi and his CPI investigators attempted to go on with their work.

Within two-and-a-half weeks of his arrival in Iraq, a group of American law enforcement officers met with Brennan. They told him that Radhi’s life was in danger. Further, they told Brennan that the State Department was not supporting Radhi because doing so would undermine the United States’ relationship with Prime Minister Al-Maliki.

Brennan and members of the OAT staff asked themselves, "How can we let this guy go on without our support?" Brennan had already met with Radhi once on the edge of the Red Zone at the old Baghdad Zoo. There, in an unpublicized meeting, they discussed the corruption in the government.

In a conversation reported to Brennan after the meeting with Radhi, Vincent Foulk, a State Department official present at the meeting, said to Radhi, "Well, Judge Brennan didn’t say much." Radhi replied, "Judges listen."

And Brennan did listen. He and a few others decided to try to save Radhi.

Working with the Ambassador

On July 23, Brennan met with U.S. Ambassador Ryan Crocker to discuss the Radhi matter and other issues. At this time, Brennan’s OAT office did not yet have a budget, nor could Brennan even find out how to get the money he needed to carry out his work.

Crocker and Brennan met in a surveillance-proof room, where Brennan confronted Crocker about the on-going corruption. One thing he discussed with the ambassador was evidence of crimes committed by Dr. Adel Muhsin, head of the Iraqi IGs (Inspectors General). Millions of dollars in pharmaceuticals had been stolen or misappropriated, to be sold on the black market in Syria and Iraq. Brennan told Crocker that he believed that Muhsin was a danger to his OAT advisors. Crocker said, "I’ll order a study."

Brennan and the OAT team had already done an 80-page study of the massive corruption in the Iraqi ministries. After the meeting, one of the ambassador’s aides said, "You do not talk to the ambassador that way." Later, as he continued to pursue his anti-corruption efforts, Brennan was told by another State Department official, "Art, you’re going to get fired."

Fate Steps In

Within a few hours of the judge’s meeting with Ambassador Crocker, Brennan received a phone call that was to change his life completely. It was from his wife Nancy; she had been diagnosed with cancer. Nancy, a teacher, had been planning to join him in Iraq if she could find work there. Brennan took an emergency medical leave so he could return to the US to be with his wife, but he did not immediately resign, since he had been in the job only a few weeks and thought he might return to Iraq in the future. However, he did resign in late August after learning of the seriousness of Nancy’s illness.

After returning to the United States, Brennan was contacted by a Congressional oversight committee, the Waxman Committee, which was investigating corruption in Iraq, asking Brennan if he would testify. He told them he would. Judge Radhi, who was in the U.S. for training, was asked to testify, too.

Eventually, Brennan testified before the Senate as well. In his appearances on Capitol Hill the following year, Brennan expressed his deep concern regarding the policies and performance of the State Department in Iraq. His criticism was harsh. "The Department of State has negligently, recklessly and sometimes intentionally misled the U.S. Congress, the American people and the people of Iraq," he said testimony in May 2008. "In a sense, the Department of State has contributed to the killing and maiming of U.S. soldiers; the deaths of thousands of Iraqi civilians; the bolstering of illegal militias, insurgents and al Qaeda – and the enrichment and empowerment of the thieves controlling some of the Iraqi ministries. Further, the Department of State’s performance or nonperformance has discouraged honest men and women in the Iraqi government. Billions of U.S. and Iraqi dollars have been lost, stolen and wasted." Brennan then provided the commission with examples to substantiate these allegations. [Judge Brennan’s complete testimony]

Judge Brennan, who is now at home in Weare, told Bar News, "My experience with the Department of State and the Department of Justice in Iraq in Baghdad have changed my view of the U.S. government forever. I have learned that there is little or no accountability within the executive branch and that the White House is no better than any of its agencies. I do not trust any document voluntarily published by the Department of State. Whenever I hear or read that information will not be disclosed for ‘national security’ reasons I assume that the U.S. government is lying and that fraud, blunders and crimes are being covered up. The U.S. government has killed thousands and thousands of innocent people in foreign lands who never did anything to hurt us. The U.S. has been doing this for many, many years.

"We American people have the right to know what our government is up to, but that right is being suppressed every single day. We should do something about these things now, while we still can."

Back in the United States for good, Judge Brennan and his wife Nancy turned their efforts toward rescuing Brennan‘s former colleagues, Judge Radhi and other Iraqis, from the deadly threats they faced in their own country. Again, Brennan found his efforts resisted by elements of the US government.

Part II of this article appears in the Nov. issue of Bar News and tells what became of Judge Radhi and the others who sought asylum in the U.S. with the help of the Brennans. Read the article.

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