'In Iraq, corruption unabated'

Last modified: 7/18/2010 12:00:00 AM
A recent press release from the U.S. embassy in Iraq described a visit to Baghdad by federal district court Judge Joseph Laplante and U.S. Attorney John Kacavas. These New Hampshire men participated in a program that led them to make extravagant claims about the commitment of Iraqi judges and law enforcement officers to the rule of law and the fight against government corruption. Unfortunately, the U.S. Embassy has used these two well-meaning New Hampshire officials to help deceive the American people into believing there is a semblance of justice in the government of Iraq, and that therefore the U.S. invasion and occupation of Iraq "has all been worth it."

I am a retired New Hampshire judge. Like Laplante and Kacavas I went to Iraq to try to help, and in the summer of 2007 I directed the short-lived U.S. Embassy Office of Accountability and Transparency.

OAT's mission included assisting and advising the three Iraqi ministries responsible for fighting corruption in Iraq. The OAT team worked with Judge Radhi al Radhi, the director of the Iraqi Commission for Public Integrity. My tour of duty was cut short, and the OAT program barely outlasted me. This is because Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's corrupt government was in a fight to the death with Radhi and his investigators, who had uncovered evidence of the theft of billions of dollars by Iraqi leaders allied with the prime minister. The CPI had evidence of the murder of hundreds of Sunnis through the operations of the Iraqi Ministry of Health, which was controlled by a close associate of al-Maliki who eventually became the "czar" of the al-Maliki anticorruption program. This is the same so-called anticorruption organization that Kacavas and Laplante visited.

The Iraqi judiciary is corrupt. This is not because any particular judge is dishonest but because an independent and impartial Iraqi judge making decisions against the leadership of Iraq is very likely to end up dead.

As director of the CPI, Radhi spent more than two years trying to bring justice to the people. When Radhi refused to follow orders to stop investigating al-Maliki's allies, al-Maliki tried to have Radhi removed politically. When that failed, attempts on his life began. Radhi's home was rocketed twice. Within days of my arrival in the Green Zone, a group of American law enforcement officers told us that Radhi was a target and that his investigators were in peril: More than 30 CPI personnel had been murdered in the line of duty, as well as numerous family members who had been kidnapped and killed.


The State Department refused to help. Shoring up al-Maliki's credibility was a U.S. priority, and therefore Radhi and his investigators were abandoned. Ultimately, with his family in grave danger if he stayed in Iraq, Radhi sought U.S. asylum. The embassy ordered State Department and Department of Justice personnel not to assist in their quest for asylum. Some members of the OAT team and other State Department and Department of Justice officials helped Radhi and his lieutenants anyway. We were blacklisted by the embassy for doing so. Finally, members of Congress including Reps. Henry Waxman, Tom Lantos and Sen. Judd Gregg pressured Ambassador Ryan Crocker into assisting the CPI families in Baghdad, and these refugees were granted asylum.

Predictably, upon the departure of Radhi, the criminal cases pursued by the Commission for Public Integrity against officials at the highest levels of the Iraqi government were dropped. Evidence and witnesses disappeared. Radhi's attorney in Baghdad was shot in the jaw. The CPI was purged and renamed the Commission of Integrity. On the American side, the Office of Accountability and Transparency was dismantled. The OAT team's hands-on reports about corruption had been routinely eviscerated in the so-called "vetting" process that went on in the ambassador's office. In August 2007, an 80-page OAT report detailing corruption in the 33 Iraqi ministries was retroactively classified by the State Department to keep Congress and the media from discussing the rampant corruption CPI and OAT found in the government of Iraq.

 Public relations

Today, Judge Raheem al-Ekeili, the current director of the Commission of Integrity, has no independence from al-Maliki's office. No investigations go forward without al-Maliki's permission. Raheem's mission is public relations. Laplante and Kacavas probably met Judge Raheem at the program described in the embassy press release.

I wish I had talked with Laplante and Kacavas before they went to Baghdad. I hope we can talk in the future. Here are a few questions that would have livened up their discussions in Baghdad:

1. Is it true that the Central Criminal Court of Iraq routinely assigns criminal cases against al-Maliki cohorts out of the Baghdad criminal courts and into the provinces where the cases subsequently disappear? For instance, the former minister of trade was to stand trial for skimming millions off the ration card program that feeds most Iraqis. Word came down from al-Maliki to transfer the case to a provincial court packed with al-Maliki loyalists; this court promptly acquitted the minister of trade.

2. Is it true that the al-Maliki government has established secret prisons where prisoners are routinely tortured to get confessions?

3. Despite the disappearance of billions of taxpayer dollars, is it true that no leader in al-Maliki government has ever been convicted of corruption?

The embassy's use of Laplante and Kacavas for public relations purposes is a tiny part in a continuing policy of disinformation that has helped railroad us into two wars costing thousands of American lives and billions of dollars. We Americans ask ourselves: How should we vote? Should we support this war? Should we serve in the military? We cannot make reasonable decisions about these things if we rely on a government that conceals facts that we and our elected representatives have the constitutional right to know.

(Arthur Brennan of Weare is a former superior court judge.)

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