Rebuilding the Iraqi judicial system...

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Posted by Sadie from ? ( on Wednesday, April 30, 2003 at 9:37PM :

Just thought this was interesting...
Gil Goes to Baghdad
Nashville Scene
May 1-7, 2003

U.S. Appeals Court Judge Merritt to help create Iraqi judicial system

By Bruce Dobie

He may not have any running water. And he may have to sleep on a cot. But his toilet may be made of gold.

Gil Merritt, the Nashville judge who serves on the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals and has been active in helping build judicial systems in foreign countries, leaves Sunday to try to establish a court system in Iraq. While he's been told he might be staying in one of Saddam Hussein's palaces, the enormity of his task is clearly more pressing than the notoriety of his accommodations.

"You can't have a democratic society without the rule of law," he says. "You can't have a prosperous society without enforceability of contracts. But every society needs to go down its own path and devise its own system."

The 67-year-old Merritt says the opportunity to ship out to Iraq came rather suddenly, after returning home from a round of golf at the lush Golf Club of Tennessee last Thursday. On the phone was a fellow judge who had passed on the offer from the Justice Department. But would Merritt be interested? After thinking it over for several days, he decided to go.

The tour of duty is 90 days, during which he and a couple of other federal judges who are also part of the team will be involved in "strengthening or setting up a temporary judicial branch over there, then participating and making some recommendations about a long-term independent judiciary in a constitutional structure." He also adds, "Having said that, that's about all I know."

Teams of Americans in just about every imaginable field are being dispatched to rebuild Iraq. Professionals involved in electrical engineering, transportation, law enforcement and any number of other areas are headed there to assist in reconstruction under the direction of the U.S. Defense Department. In the judicial arena, Merritt's name stood out, he says, because in the early 1990s he was active in establishing programs to help foreign countries create independent judiciaries. As part of those efforts, he traveled to both Russia and India to offer advice about their judicial systems.

Creating an independent judiciary in Iraq, Merritt says, won't be easy. After World War I, he says the judicial system was patterned after a "kind of British civil law court system." That collapsed in 1958, but got much worse with the ascendancy of Saddam Hussein in 1968.

"What I'm trying to find out now is what kinds of core institutions or older Iraqi institutions or customary law might be available to form a core for a reasonable court system there," Merritt says. "What's a little ironic is you're going to have all these Americans with a relatively short history of nationhood tell a country that has 5,000 years of civilization how things are going to be."

-- Sadie
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