The Iraqi Legal System

Today’s New York Times contains a heartbreaking front page story about the shocking inadequacies of the legal system now operating in Iraq. The story raises numerous issues but I’ll just mention two here.

(1) The article demonstrates that a concern for due process is not, as get-tough types sometimes say, a kind-hearted but soft-headed gesture. With procedures that do little better than chance at distinguishing guilty from innocent, and corruption rampant, not only are innocent people suffering long terms of imprisonment and perhaps in some cases being sentenced to death, but guilty people are routinely released. Military commanders complain about continually recapturing the same insurgents who are turned over to the courts only to be released on the basis of insufficient evidence. It’s true, of course, that one tough-minded solution would be to convict everybody, but even without the fog of war, this method should be utterly unacceptable to all but totalitarians. More crassly, the Iraqi government stands little chance of winning hearts and minds if it routinely imprisons large numbers of innocent people.

(2) The story contains the following quotation from Paul Bremer, speaking in November 2003: “Evil doers will face justice in honest and fair Iraqi courts.” It is the legal equivalent of the Vice President’s prediction that American forces would be greeted as liberators. No wonder Bremer received a Presidential Medal of Freedom.