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Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Soldiers help legitimize Iraq’s legal system

23 May 2007
Story by Spc. Mike Alberts
3rd Brigade Combat Team Public Affairs
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KIRKUK - He downloaded chickens as a member of his high school’s Future Farmers of America club. Growing up, he worked the sun-drenched oil fields of southern Arkansas. He’s no stranger to rolling up his shirt sleeves to get a job done, a quality that is serving him well during his mission as a Soldier in northern Iraq.

He’s Capt. Duane Kees, brigade judge advocate, 3rd Infantry Brigade Combat Team, 25th Infantry Division, who is currently working to instill integrity and legitimacy into a legal system weathered by decades of neglect and distrust in Kirkuk, Iraq.

Kees was born in Little Rock, Arkansas, and raised in Pine Bluff. He is the prosecuting attorney on criminal and administrative matters for 3rd Brigade, and advises commanders at all levels on a variety of legal issues. While deployed in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom, Kees is one of the brigade’s legal experts in areas unique to a war zone.

“I’m constantly giving legal assistance to commanders and Soldiers on all variety of things out here,” explained Kees. “At war, there is an operational aspect of our work that is unique to being deployed,” he said. “We provide training, teaching and advice on things like the rules of engagement, escalation of force and the law of armed conflict [among other things].”

Perhaps most challenging for Kees, however, is his additional responsibility of bringing legitimacy to a dysfunctional legal system. Kees is one of dozens of attorneys country-wide who is involved in helping to improve Iraq’s rule of law.

“Iraq has a foundation for the ‘rule of law’ as it’s called. It has a codified judicial system, and a legislature and government based on that system. Yet, through the Saddam Era, the country lost it, didn’t abide by it and strayed from it when it was in their best interest to do so,” said Kees. “We’re trying to help Iraqi citizens have faith again in their laws by improving a legal system that can be trusted.”

Kees works to provide more accountability in the region’s detainee operations, evaluates infrastructure needs like courthouses and jails and speaks with judges to offer operational recommendations. That said, Kees often works more by “feel” and instinct than he’s accustomed.

“When I practiced law in Arkansas and Hawaii [where I am stationed when not at war] there was always a book that provided guidance. Out here, there’s no book on how to help bestow dignity to a people’s legal system, a system that’s foreign to me. Out here, at times it’s like I’m playing chess in the dark,” he said.

Although he might now know for certain whether he’s making the right move on occasion, in those moments Kees relies on “gut instinct” and with confidence knowing that he’s been taught by the best and raised and educated well.

Growing up in Arkansas, Kees’ parents emphasized learning. His mother holds two masters degrees and works as a librarian at Watson Chapel located in Pine Bluff, Ark. His father is the Superintendent of the White Hall School District also in Pine Bluff.

Kees himself excelled academically, first while a high schooler in small town Stevens, Ark., and later at the University of Arkansas where he attended on an academic scholarship. Form there, all it took was a little back-braking work in the oil fields of southern Arkansas to push the future Army lawyer to law school also in his native Arkansas at the University of Arkansas School of Law.

Of course, Kees understands that the War on Terror will not be resolved by his efforts or those of his legal colleagues. But legitimizing the rule of law in Iraq will be a cornerstone of a better future for its citizens.

“Often, a stable society comes down to the court system. Laws are no good if you can’t enforce them. Laws are no good if you can’t apply them. Laws are no good if you cannot interpret them. All that is accomplished by the rule of law,” Kees emphasized. “If [citizens] don’t view [their] court system as legitimate, you can have the most honorable judge but if he is not seen as such, if the system isn’t viewed as fair, you really don’t have much.”

Photo - Cpt. Duane Kees (right) brigade judge advocate, 3rd Infantry Brigade Combat Team, 25th Infantry Division, listen's to a Soldier's question during Kees combat rules of engagement class at Forward Operating Base Warrior, Kirkuk, Iraq. Photo by Sgt. Maurice Smith.

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