Improvement needed in Afghan system of justice

Dec 9, 2009

International law expert Mike Newton cautions that the troop surge in Afghanistan must be accompanied by a concurrent improvement in the nation’s system of justice, now plagued by lawlessness and graft.

Newton, who is professor of the practice of law, developed and teaches the innovative International Law Practice Lab at Vanderbilt.. During 2005, he was part of an elite team of experts who prepared the judges and prosecutors for the trial that eventually led to Saddam Hussein’s conviction.

“A troop surge and change in strategy must be accompanied by correlative improvement in the rule of law structures and the domestic system of justice if it is to succeed,” Newton said. “This is at the very core of our counterinsurgency doctrine.”

Newton remains involved with other nations attempting to build their own domestic rule of law structures, including Liberia and Uganda. He and co-author Michael P. Scharf outlined their Iraq experiences in Enemy of the State: The Trial and Conviction of Saddam Hussein, which won the book of the year award from the American branch of the International Law Association. Among those to whom the book was dedicated is Riyadh, Newton’s translator in Iraq, who was gunned down on the steps of his home for helping the United States.

“In Iraq, the local judges and lawyers took over the burden of building their own systems and sustaining it,” Newton said. “Iraq has been busily prosecuting terrorists under Iraqi law for years now. There are no similar processes in Afghanistan. Their system boils down to the corruption of, ‘Can you afford to pay for not being prosecuted’ or ‘Can you pay to be released from the thousands of detainees in Afghan custody.’”

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