Justice for all: McChord Airmen assist in Iraqi court system

  • Published
  • By Capt. Suzanne Ovel
  • 62nd Airlift Wing Public Affairs
Kidnappers, foreign jihadists, architects of improvised explosive devices -- they've seen it all. 

As members of Task Force 134 Multi-National Forces, Iraq, Capt. Lisa Gorog and Tech. Sgt. Donna Larkins work directly with the Central Criminal Courts of Iraq to present evidence to Iraqi judges against enemy detainees captured by the MNF.

Since they began working in Baghdad's International Zone last September, the two 62nd Airlift Wing Judge Advocate Airmen here processed and presented a number of cases. 

They work directly with Iraqi staff to present these cases in the courtroom.

"Every trial that CCCI conducts, whether it ends up as a conviction or a dismissal, is another step towards securing the rule of law in Iraq," said Captain Gorog.

While cases end with an Iraqi judge making a ruling, they begin at the joint JAG office. 

Team paralegals such as Sergeant Larkins create cases after receiving files from detainee internment facilities. She then assigns cases to attorneys for each detainee captured.

Once the case is created, military attorneys present the evidence in an Iraqi court. When 
Captain Gorog presents evidence to the court, she's part of an assembly of participants that includes her interpreter, a defense lawyer, a clerk, an Iraqi judge and the insurgents being tried. Her role is to present evidence to the court from MNF witnesses.

"Without their testimony, we would have no case," said Captain Gorog.

Trying these cases with both Iraqi and American participants results in language and cultural barriers, many of which are lessened by interpreters.

Not all challenges have such a concrete remedy. The emotional toll is less scrutable; Captain Gorog deals with the accumulated stress of talking to witnesses about their experiences.

"They are shot at ... mortared, every day," she said. "Most have seen their friends blown up or shot while they were standing right next to them. I will never forget any of my witnesses. It was heart breaking at times. But they were so strong ... it is amazing."

She and Sergeant Larkins also face danger, living and working in a city that receives small arms fire and mortar attacks. After four months, they must work to avoid complacency with the violence.

While their deployment is almost over, the Iraqis they work with will continue to establish their justice system. Captain Gorog has high hopes for them.

"Despite the sectarian strife and assorted other difficulties you would expect in a war zone, CCCI continues to operate and help push Iraq towards more stability," she said. 

"The Iraqi lawyers and judges' dedication is evident every day when they come to court despite death threats and the inherent dangers of traveling around Baghdad."