Photo Information

Cpl. John Szafranski, a 27-year-old Lacey Township, N.J., native and police transition team advisor with 3rd Battalion, 14th Marine Regiment, speaks to Lt. Waleed and an Arabic translator during a meeting to discuss future operations of the detective bureau of the Fallujah Iraqi Police. The detective bureau, officially the Major Crimes Unit, is responsible for investigating each arrest made by Iraqi Police in the city in order to send the suspects to trial. Having judges at the bench, something taken for granted in the United States, is focus of efforts for the II Marine Expeditionary Force and Regimental Combat Team 6 rule of law teams.

Photo by Sgt. Stephen M. DeBoard

Fallujah success hinges on acts of judicial will

6 Mar 2007 | Sgt. Stephen DeBoard

Despite the constant threat of improvised explosive devices, gunfire and abductions, Fallujans struggle to make what living they can.

At times trying to rebuild a life here can seem like building a castle in the sand. The tide of insurgent hostility, indiscriminate between Coalition Forces and mothers walking their children to school, can wash away months of progress in moments. Terrorist forces more concerned with building a power base than a flourishing city stand as a constant and bloody impediment to peace.

In the end, there is only so much the U.S. forces can do here. Peace in a democracy is an outcropping of the fair and measured application of justice by those whom the people have chosen to apply it. In this city, there is no mistaking one such group of law bringers. The Iraqi Police, wearing light blue, short-sleeved Oxfords and navy trousers, are unmistakable when cast against the backdrop of track suits and dishdashas worn by civilians here.

The IPs, or “Sons of Fallujah,” have begun to make their mark on the city. In spite of being the target of murder and intimidation campaigns, they execute regular raids and patrols, rounding up scores of suspected insurgents. Under the careful tutelage of the Marines, soldiers and sailors of the Police Transition Teams, the IPs have rallied from being a band of deputized civilians into a team of dedicated, effective professionals committed to cleaning up the streets of their hometown.

With the pace of arrests set, the challenge now comes in getting arrestees to trial. This is the challenge before the Fallujans and Marine lawyers with Regimental Combat Team 6. At issue is the handling of the police, judges and municipal reconstruction as a unified system vice separate aspects of the same problem to be handled independently. Maj. Paul F. Meagher, the rule of law officer with 4th Civil Affairs Group, Multi-National Force-West, said the separate agencies working with the police, the judges and jails must work with a sense of singular purpose to create a functioning system.

“Since 2003 the rule of law element (has been stalled),” said Meagher. “There were different agencies … involved with their area, but not necessarily looking at the system as a whole.”

Beginning last summer, however, a more holistic approach to the problem was undertaken. No longer are the judges, the police and the jails separate entities to be considered on their own. Now the connective relationships binding them together are being nurtured.

“The criminal justice system is the connection between the police, the courts and the jails so that the police can arrest someone, they can get processed, put through the court system, get convicted and sent to prison as part of the whole,” said Meagher.

It takes more than just a different way of looking at things to get judges to the bench, however. There are only a handful of judges in Fallujah. Compared to the hundreds of policemen who work in the city, this makes them relatively high-profile targets. Living under a thick blanket of danger makes the few legal arbiters understandably apprehensive about trying criminal cases where the defendant or his fellow insurgents are eager to exact retribution for any guilty findings.

Despite this, Meagher said all talks with the judges indicate they want rule of law established in their city. They each profess to taking tentative steps to test the waters, and perform routine administrative judicial work such as extending warrants and orders to allow the continued confinement of detainees while their investigations are ongoing. Such acts are tests to understand how far they can go without endangering themselves or their families.

“(The judges) are sticking their necks out and seeing if it’s safe. They want to come out to help, but they’re not going to be the first to put themselves at risk. Getting a working relationship between the judiciary and the police is an important first step. They have to feel like their efforts aren’t going to go to waste, and it’s safe enough for them to do their job. That takes time,” said Meagher.

Iraqi Police recognize the difficulties faced by judges, and understand the resolution to those problems must be a joint effort.

“Because of the security conditions (for the judges), getting them to find a terrorist guilty can be difficult,” Iraqi Police Lt. Waleed, an investigative officer with the detective bureau of the Fallujah IPs, said through a translator. “The Iraqi Police, Army and (American) Marines must work together to make them safer.”

The intimidation campaigns against any Iraqis who take a stand for law and order creates a fissure in the link between police and judges. This rift must be constantly repaired through assurances that every possible measure is being taken to shield the bench from violence, said Meagher.

“If the police do go out and arrest someone, say there’s a clear-cut case and they don’t need any witness statements, take the case and forward it up to an investigative judge. You’ve got a bad guy who goes around to the judge’s house and says, ‘I’m going to kill you and your family if my guy doesn’t walk out of his hearing tomorrow.’ You’ve got a solid case and the guy walks,” he said. “(Our) goal then is to find a way to isolate the judiciary.”

Meagher draws parallels between the current situation in Fallujah and Chicago’s Mafia problems in the 1920s. Both situations are characterized by lawless men intent on building their own power no matter what the cost. It took creative tax law prosecution to lock infamous gangster Al Capone behind bars and bring Chicago back under control. Likewise, in Fallujah there must be a determined application of law in the face of an equally adamant insurgent threat.

“It’s all the same thing: protecting the most vulnerable piece of the system,” said Meagher. “Once you crack the code of protecting the judiciary, however you do it, you achieve synergy where the police now know if they do their job, they will see results.  People see results, they start feeling safer about working with the police and have faith the system works, and start cooperating with authorities.”