Soldiers learning the ropes of the Iraqi legal system, but some uncertainty over process remains
BAGHDAD — Maj. Dex Davis doesn’t exactly blend in when he walks around the old Ministry of Defense compound in Baghdad.
Everyone from Iraqi soldiers to senior officers smile and joke with the gregarious military transition team member. Those who know him well greet Davis with a handshake-cum-chest bump that shows obvious affection between the American and his Iraqi counterparts.
Prosecution task forces may be the ones monitoring the warrant process, but much of their work is done through military transition team members like Davis who have developed a personal rapport with the Iraqis involved in the process. Davis advises Iraq’s chief investigator for eastern Baghdad. Like other MiTT members who once advised Iraqi security forces on combat operations, he’s now spending more of his time ensuring that American warrant requests get approved.
Americans oversee just two parts of the warrant approval process: collecting the evidence and giving the packets an initial review. The rest is up to the Iraqis, some of whom can bring a warrant request to a quick halt.
"It’s not a lock step, set thing like Americans are used to," said Capt. Brian Patton, the adviser to the Rusafa Area Command’s intelligence officer. "It’s more about relationships."
Patton began his job as a liaison between coalition forces and Iraqi forces, paying particular attention to helping his Iraqi counterpart with intelligence analysis — or, as he said, "more of the pointy-ended-stick-type stuff."
But the RAC intelligence officer must sign off on every American warrant for eastern Baghdad. Starting about 1 ½ to 2 months ago, warrants started taking up more of Patton’s time. He now checks on the status of the warrants every night and goes through the entire list of approved warrants once a week.
Because the Iraqis have been required to obtain warrants longer than the Americans, many MiTTs learned about the process long before American brigades and divisions launched their formal efforts.
Davis, for example, began researching warrants in April when they took on increased emphasis in Iraqi briefings. He sat down with the Iraqi chief investigator for the other half of Baghdad and had him walk through the entire warrant process. When faced with a legal question, Davis can now recall the pertinent sections of Iraqi code off the top of his head.
The learning curve has sometimes turned the tables on who advises whom. Maj. Rich Ramsey — the officer in charge of a brigade prosecution task force — recalled the first time he took a warrant packet to Lt. Col. Satar, the chief investigator for eastern Baghdad. Satar told him that they looked good, then walked Ramsey down the hall to show him how to get the memorandums of approval that are required before a warrant request goes to the chief investigator.
Said Patton: "As we’ve had to dig in here, we’ve probably got knowledge we should have had all along."
It’s still unclear how much time the extra work will add to the MiTTs already long days. Davis estimates that he spends just two hours a day on warrants. Patton, on the other hand, could see a sharper increase. Until last week, he’d received just 70 packets in his time working with warrants. On Thursday, he received 200 packets in a single batch.
"It’s going to be a long process," Patton said. "The next guy will have this as a big part of his job."
STRIPES SERIES:A new wayof doing business
Starting Thursday, American units in Iraq will be required to obtain a warrant for nearly everyone they detain. Their actions must follow terms set by the security agreement signed between the two countries. In a three-day series, Stars and Stripes examines how the military is preparing for this change.
Day One: Prosecution task forces• As New Year’s Day nears, U.S. troops prepare to hand over arrest authority to local judges• Soldiers learning the ropes of the Iraqi legal system, but some uncertainty over process remainsDay two: The Troops • ‘CSI: Baghdad’ it isn’t: High-tech gear not a lot of help in getting Iraqi warrantsDay three: The Iraqis• Iraqis taking a larger role in securing warrants