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Renaissance Soldier: Phillip Carter


By Brad A. Greenberg '04

Published Jan 1, 2007 8:00 AM

Phillip Carter '97, J.D. '04 is a man of many titles — lawyer, soldier, writer. Back in Los Angeles after volunteering for military service in Iraq, Carter, 31, is catching up with the life he left behind, reflecting on the 11 months he spent helping reform the justice system in Baqubah.

Q. Your squad was there to train Iraqi police. Why did you get involved with the judicial system?

A. We saw pretty early on that there was a very close relationship between the police, the jails, the courts, the lawyers and every part of the rule-of-law system in Iraq. If we simply focused on the police at the exclusion of the others, we wouldn’t have any real effect.


Phillip Carter is a prolific commentator on national security issues whose byline has appeared in Slate, Washington Monthly, The New York Times, Los Angeles Times, The Washington Post, Chicago Tribune and other publications. Log on to Captain Carter's blog, which links to his bio, e-mail and articles he has written.

Q. What kinds of problems did you see?

A. The jail itself was a facility built to hold 150 people. When we first started this effort, it had about 475 detainees; they literally could not lie down on their backs because it was that crowded. Disease ran rampant through the facility, and it was simply a horrible place. ... A lot of the cases suffered because the police didn't know how to gather evidence or the judicial investigators weren't gathering evidence for one reason or another. A lot of people were put in jail because of a vendetta or personal reasons, but there was really no case against them. Holding those things up to a magnifying glass resolved a number of the cases. We also found that when we asked about a case, more often than not, our efforts had a real big, indirect effect. Simply by shining the flashlight on those, we would push the Iraqi judges and jailers and police to do the right thing on all the others.

Q. You expended a lot of energy pushing for the release of a convicted murderer named Hamid who had been released and given amnesty before the fall of Baghdad, and then was recaptured and incarcerated on those previous charges.

A. We wanted to show them the system could work, even for a guilty person. Because if we could show that it worked for him, then in theory it should work for everyone, especially the innocent. ... Unfortunately, the last day I visited the jail, Hamid was still there. When the judges heard his case, they decided to keep him in jail. There wasn't a lot we could do to contravene that because at the same time we were pushing for the rule of law, we were also pushing for Iraqi sovereignty, which means accepting their decisions even when you don’t agree with them.