Legal team works to put anti-Iraqi forces behind bars

1 Aug 2004 | Lance Cpl. J.C. Guibord

Since its beginnings in 3500 B.C., Iraq has had a history of making swift and final decisions about its citizens' guilt or innocence in the courtroom. Now, a familiar phrase in the American lexicon - innocent until proven guilty - is beginning to sweep the Iraqi countryside.

The I Marine Expeditionary Force Joint Service Law Enforcement Team is preparing and gathering evidence throughout the Al Anbar Province to bring anti-Iraqi forces to justice through the recently-established Central Criminal Court of Iraq in Baghdad.

More common than not, Marines on the ground aren't just detaining insurgents, but taking photos and evidence that could eventually lead to a conviction, according to the team's leader, Capt. D.H. Tran.

"Now more so than ever, our Marines are detaining the individual and (bringing) him to justice, letting the Iraqis ... utilize their own form of justice and try these anti-Iraqi forces," Tran said.

Marines on the ground took advantage of the new judicial system at a routine traffic stop recently in the combat-intensive Al Anbar Province.

At a vehicle checkpoint, Marines with 3rd Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment found an anti-tank mine in the trunk of a vehicle. Photos of the scene were taken and evidence was gathered. The owner of the vehicle was detained at a local detention center. The evidence was then sent to the investigators for interpretation and organization before being sent to the Iraqi courts, where the accused will be brought to trial.

The investigation team consists of three Navy investigators, an administration clerk and a Marine staff judge advocate as the team leader.

"The investigators do the majority of the work," said Tran. "They are the ones that are with the unit, out there talking to the Marines, collecting the evidence, packaging the cases."

According to the investigators, the troops on the ground and their ability to properly gather evidence make their jobs a lot easier. Seventy-five percent of the cases are done without an investigator leaving Camp Fallujah. 

"All we do is gather the information, send it up and let the Iraqi judicial system do its job," said Petty Officer 1st Class Haywood Williams, an investigator with the team and a Miami native.

Although collecting and preparing evidence for trial can be a thankless job, the investigators feel a strong sense of obligation and gratitude for and from the troops on the ground they support.

"I have seen a lot of young Marines out there, and telling them the outcome of one of these trials, seeing their faces (when they realize) they went out of their way and risked their lives capturing this guy and it wasn't all for nothing," said Petty Officer 1st Class Christopher L. Glover, one of the team's investigators and a Lakeland, Fla., native. "That gives me a sense that I have accomplished something, working for these (young Marines)."