Arguably, Col. Mark Martins runs the most multifaceted, pressure-packed and press-scrutinized law practice in the Middle East.
Martins serves as staff judge advocate for Multi-National Force-Iraq (MNF-I), which makes him Gen. David Petraeus' top legal adviser.
He's prepared for the job. Martins' military career began with a tour leading an airborne infantry platoon. His resume is a record of demanding military law assignments, including a stint in the chairman of the joint chiefs office. His academic record speaks volumes: first in order of general merit in his class at West Point, Rhodes Scholar with first class honors at Oxford, Harvard Law School and Law Review.
Within Iraq, Martins' "law firm-in-uniform" handles an array of legal issues that have immediate analogues in the civilian world. The Judge Advocate General's (JAG) office oversees courts martial (trial work) and authorizes investigations (district attorney work).
Military lawyers, of course, have "service unique" legal tasks. In the War on Terror, they often must advise senior commanders on the legal ramifications of attacking certain types of targets. That's a complicated job in a complicated theater of war.
However, Martins, his staff and civilian legal personnel serving with other U.S. agencies in Iraq have an even more complex and, in my view, more critical assignment. These legal experts are helping Iraq's nascent democratic government implement the Rule of Law.
Replacing the violent whims of ideological, theocratic or tribal tyrants and terrorists with democratic law is a slow, frustratingly incremental process, but nevertheless a strategically essential and potentially decisive endeavor if peace, justice and genuine security are your goals.
In a phone interview from Baghdad, Martins told me that in his estimation the Iraqi government made a small but significant step on April 2, when the Iraqi judiciary opened criminal trial proceedings in its new Rule of Law Complex in Baghdad.
The new facility itself is a compound in Baghdad's Resafa district that co-locates investigation and judicial operations. It is certainly a target for terrorists and fascist thugs because the murderers understand its physical existence represents precisely the kind of systemic change that will ultimately defeat them. Because it is a target, Iraq's ministries of interior and justice have devoted extensive resources to securing the Rule of Law Complex.
Austin Bay is the author of three novels. His third novel, The Wrong Side of Brightness, was published by Putnam/Jove in June 2003. He has also co-authored four non-fiction books, to include A Quick and Dirty Guide to War: Third Edition (with James Dunnigan, Morrow, 1996).
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