Bar News - November 19, 2010
Anti-Corruption Mission Ends in Disenchantment – Part II
Judge Brennan Brings Home His Quest for Justice
By: Beverly Rorick
Editor’s Note: In the November issue of Bar News, we presented the story of Judge Arthur Brennan’s experiences in Iraq in 2007 as the US State Department’s deputy director of the Iraq Reconstruction Management Office, and director of the Office of Accountability and Transparency (OAT). Read Part I.
Nancy and Art Brennan with their dog, Carlin, at home in Weare.
Part II of this story continues with Judge Brennan’s depiction of events following his return to the US and his efforts to help Judge Radhi al-Radhi, the former leader of the CPI (Commission of Public Integrity, Iraq’s FBI), his staff and their families.
Judge Brennan worked closely with Bar News on the writing of both Parts I and II of this article, to ensure accuracy – and also because he believes that Judge Radhi and the other refugees are in danger of their lives if they return to Iraq. "My friends still hope for change in Iraq and maybe someday it will happen and they can go back," said Brennan.
Upon his return to America, Judge Brennan gave testimony before the Waxman Congressional Oversight Committee and also to the US Senate; upon request from the Democratic Policy Committee (DPC), he recently (Oct. 12, 2010) gave further testimony regarding his experiences in Iraq. In this testimony, Brennan said, "I appreciate the assistance that the Senators of the DPC have given to the Iraqis of the Commission of Public Integrity (CPI) who were forced to seek asylum in the United States….
"The assassinations and murders continue. The latest CPI victim is CPI investigator Laieh Muhammed, who was assassinated on September 26, 2010, by means of a silenced pistol. He was in his car in a security line in Baghdad waiting to enter the International Zone on his way to work….
"The leaders of the US government, particularly the Department of State and the Department of Justice, should be ashamed of their part in this ongoing tragedy."
High Hopes Dashed
When Judge Brennan retired in June 2007, after 15 years on New Hampshire’s superior court bench to go to Iraq to work for the US State Department, he had high hopes of helping to eradicate corruption in the Iraqi government.
Brennan was soon disappointed by the reality of life in Iraq’s Green Zone and the lack of cooperation he received from both the American and Iraqi governments. "Some Americans working for US agencies in Iraq expressed concern about the corruption," said Brennan, "but I soon discovered that few accurate records were kept because many people were making a lot of money on the war."
Soon after Brennan’s arrival in Baghdad, Judge Radhi al-Radhi, the head of the CPI, asked for a meeting with him. Brennan met with Radhi at the edge of the Red Zone on the grounds of the old Baghdad zoo, where the CPI had its offices. Radhi told Brennan that he and many of his staff members had had several attempts made on their lives while trying to do their jobs. The CPI was originally established to find out how Iraq’s annual budget of $30-$40 billion was being spent, but now there were important people who didn’t want that information to come out.
"He and his staff were continually threatened," said Brennan. "Word had come down that Radhi was to cease his investigations against the Iraqi ministries – and the US government was gradually withdrawing its support, although the US had set up the CPI in the first place and chosen Radhi as its head."
According to official CPI records, 32 of Radhi’s people (the US State Dept. places the number at 40) have been murdered in pursuit of CPI investigations. Twelve of their family members have also been killed. There were two rocket attacks on Judge Radhi’s own home.
A Good Man Abandoned
Brennan was shocked to discover that the US government was complicit in protecting the corruption for diplomatic reasons. The US did not want to alienate Prime Minister al-Maliki, said Brennan.
"Despite its knowledge that Judge Radhi and his lieutenants were in grave danger, the US Embassy never lifted a finger to assist Judge Radhi and his CPI lieutenants with security," said Brennan. "Further, there was never any truthful statement from the Embassy that the al-Maliki government was corrupt and fighting Judge Radhi and his CPI investigators. Instead, and despite evidence of the theft of billions of dollars, the Embassy and US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, asserted publicly that Prime Minister al-Maliki was committed to fighting corruption."
The US Embassy ordered the American law enforcement officers who served as CPI trainers and advisors not to assist Radhi and his staff. (These same officers had previously asked the OAT office and Judge Brennan if there might be some way to save Judge Radhi.)
In spite of the Embassy’s policy against assisting Radhi with security, Judge Brennan and some members of the OAT staff decided to help Radhi and his CPI investigators anyway.
At this juncture (about a month after arriving in Iraq) Judge Brennan returned to the US because of his wife’s illness (see previous article); he left Iraq with a heavy heart, fearing for his Iraqi friends. However, he did not forget them and continued to work on their behalf.
Radhi’s history reads like an international spy novel. Twice he was arrested and interrogated, the first time in 1970 because he had not joined the Baath party, which had just come into power. He was taken to prison, severely beaten with bats and tortured with electrical shocks. Surprisingly, he survived and was eventually released, but he bears the scars of electrical burns on his arms and chest and a soft spot on his head from the beatings.
When the Second Gulf War started in 2003 and American soldiers began to arrive, Radhi’s hope for a better Iraq grew; in November of that year, US Administrator to Iraq, L. Paul Bremer organized the CPI and Charles Grinnell, the advisor to the CPI, chose Radhi to do what was probably the most dangerous job in Iraq. [For a thorough overview of this period and more about Judge Radhi, see The Betrayal of Judge Radhi by Christopher S. Stewart, Conde Nast Portfolio, April 2008.]
Not Just "Talking the Talk"
When Radhi and some of his staff came to the US later in 2007 ostensibly for long-scheduled FBI training, they contacted Judge Brennan. "Radhi and two of his closest and most valuable CPI staff members decided they had no choice but to seek asylum in order to save their families’ lives," said Brennan.
The Brennans, through and with the heroic pro bono efforts of Attorney Christopher Nugent of the Holland & Knight firm in Washington, DC, assisted the refugee families in their flight from Iraq – and became their sponsors as they sought asylum. Members of Congress assisted, said Brennan, including US Rep. Henry Waxman (Congressional Oversight Committee), and the late US Rep. Tom Lantos (Human Rights Commission). Also playing a key role was Senator Gregg, for whom Brennan had worked as counsel when Gregg was governor of New Hampshire – and who had appointed Brennan to the NH Superior Court bench in 1992. "Senator Gregg persuaded US Ambassador Ryan Crocker to assist the CPI families still in Iraq – and those family members were ultimately granted asylum," said Brennan.
Others helped. James Mattil, chief of staff for OAT when Brennan was in Iraq, approached Quaker families in Langley, Virginia, that he thought might help. The Quakers offered the refugees a place to stay – the Tom Fox house, named for a Quaker peace activist who had been kidnapped and killed in Iraq in 2005. The house that bears his name became a sanctuary for some of the Iraqi contingent, now homeless and without even the barest necessities.
Other churches in the Langley area helped, too. The Presbyterian church, the Congregational church, the Lutheran church; in addition, the International Rescue Committee and the Kurdish Relief Society provided money and places to stay. Retired US Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor met with Judge Radhi, offered her support and gave him some of her late husband’s suits.
The Brennans keep in touch with their Iraqi friends, but are careful not to discuss many details. They just quietly help whenever possible. Some of the refugees have found jobs in the DC area and their children are in school and doing well.
The CPI chief of security, who accompanied Radhi to America, found work as a security officer at the Crystal City Mall in Washington. When the Brennans went to the Obama inauguration, they walked through the underground tunnel that contains the mall. In one of those small miracles that sometimes actually do happen, they ran into their Iraqi friend – and were greeted with joyful hugs.
At Home in Weare
Judge Brennan and his wife Nancy live in Weare in a house they built with their own hands and where they raised two daughters. Years ago, before going to law school, Brennan worked as a stonemason with his father. He has been a builder of one kind or another most of his life and even though he and Nancy live a rather quiet life now, both are still involved in working for justice, still trying to build a better world.
It is evident that his experience in Iraq has changed him, bringing disenchantment, but also a greater determination to fight injustice. In a recent note to Bar News, Judge Brennan wrote: "The FBI has been executing search warrants against peace activists in Chicago and Minnesota for ‘providing aid and comfort’ to the enemy. I find this very disturbing. Nothing like a search warrant and subpoena from a federal grand jury to chill our First Amendment rights! Nancy and I may find a way to give these activists some help…."
Read Judge Brennan’s testimony before the Senate.