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The situation in Iraq has improved and will continue to get better

By Donald Walter - posted Monday, 1 December 2003

My adventures in Iraq taught me something that I would very much like to share with you. I have been fortunate over the past 5 or 6 years to get to such exotic places as Bosnia, Indonesia, and Morocco. But Iraq is my swan song. First, I am too old for such adventures, and second, Charlotte (my wife) won't let me. In mid-April, I got a call from DoJ asking if I would be willing to go to Iraq for up to three months to evaluate the justice system and make recommendation. When I went home, Charlotte said without a pause: "How could I possibly tell you, no?"

Let me begin with a disclaimer, I was in Iraq for fewer than 40 days, I was in Baghdad for a little over three weeks and in the three provinces of the far south for two weeks. I am limited in what I saw and heard. Needless to say, the opinions are my own. I want to make it clear that, initially, I vehemently opposed the war.

The team of 12 that went to Iraq was to assess the judiciary and to make recommendations for the future. We were sent too soon and without sufficient planning and forethought. Accordingly, we were forced to play our part by ear. Ultimately, we were successful. No thanks to the civil authorities in Washington or Iraq.


We were divided into 4 teams. We were the southern team: Mike Farhang, an AUSA from Los Angeles, Harvard Summa Undergraduate, Harvard Law Review, Linguist, 5 languages including Arabic; Rich Coughlin, Federal Public Defender from New Jersey, who abandoned his wife and 23-month-old daughter to volunteer for this; and me. We were accompanied by an interpreter and protected by what I called our "minders," four Iraqis well-armed with 9mm hand guns and AK47s.

During the first two weeks, we talked to a few hundred Iraqis and interviewed about 60 judges. Our help came from our Danish colleagues and the First Armored Division (UK) - not from the civil! authorities - OPCA, Office of the Provisional Coalition Authority, (formerly ORHA), Ambassador Brenner's group.

Despite my initial opposition to the war, I am now convinced, whether we find any weapons of mass destruction or prove Saddam sheltered and financed terrorists, absolutely, we should have overthrown the Ba'athists, indeed, we should have done it sooner.

What changed my mind?

When we left in mid-June, 57 mass graves had been found, one with the bodies of 1200 children. There have been credible reports of murder, brutality and torture of hundreds of thousands of ordinary Iraqi citizens. There is poverty on a monumental scale and fear on a larger one. That fear is still palpable.

I have seen the machines and places of torture. I will tell you one story told to me by the Chief of Pediatrics at the Medical College in Basra. It was one of the most shocking to me, but I heard worse.


One of Saddam's security agents was sent to question a Shi'ite in his home. The interrogation took place in the living room in the presence of the man's wife, who held their three-month-old child. A question was asked and the thug did not like the answer; he asked it again, same answer. He grabbed the baby from its mother and plucked its eye out.

And then repeated his question. Worse things happened with the knowledge, indeed with the participation, of Saddam, his family and the Ba'athist regime.

Thousands suffered while we were messing about with France and Russia and Germany and the UN. Every one of them knew what was going on there, but France and the UN were making millions administering the Food for Oil program.

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The following has been circulating via e-mail as “The real story”. On Line Opinion publishes it here with Senior Judge Donald Walter's approval.

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About the Author

Judge Donald Walter is a Senior Judge of the United States Western Louisiana District Court. He was one of 25 advisors sent to Iraq by the U.S. Department of Justice to assist in the reconstruction of the judicial, prosecutorial and law enforcement sectors of the country.

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