Helping to build legal system in Iraq proved to be challenging project for Gallo Jr.

| Monday, Jan. 7, 2013, 9:09 p.m.

William V. Gallo Jr., formerly of Apollo, served 27 years as a Marine Corps and Marine Corps Reserve officer, lawyer and judge, and 20 years as an assistant U.S. Attorney prosecuting drug smugglers.

But one of his most challenging assignments involved helping build the judicial system in Iraq as a senior advisor to Gen. David Petraeus, who later would become director of the CIA.

In August of 2008, Gallo received a call from the associate deputy attorney general of the U.S. Department of Justice in Washington. Because of his background as a federal prosecutor and military experience, he was asked to apply for a position in Iraq on behalf of the federal government.

Following a couple of interviews, including meeting with the attorney general, he was offered his choice of two available jobs.

One position was that of working directly for the ambassador to Iraq, Ryan Crocker, in the state department, serving for a year in Iraq to find out what was going on behind the scenes.

The other, which was nine months in duration, was to take charge of a task force organized to rebuild and revamp Iraq's judicial infrastructure, which was in shambles.

“I discussed this with my wife and we decided the nine-month assignment was the better choice,” said Gallo.

In 2004, his Marine Corps reserve unit had been deployed to Iraq, but Gallo was unable to answer the call, as he was battling Burkitt's lymphoma. He was more than disappointed that he could not serve.

Of this new opportunity, Gallo's wife, Melissa, said, “I did not want him to turn that down.”

She did admit that she was nervous, as “it was scarey” when he was in Iraq.

Gallo was named director of the Law & Order Task Force, an assembly of 85, comprised of military and civilian attorneys, paralegals, investigators, and members of the DEA, ATF and FBI. Sixteen members of the group were interpreters.

Their mission was to bring about a transparency to the rule of law, train judges in due process, train investigators and administrative staff and provide protection to all of them.

“Everything was completely different,” Gallo said. “Nothing was like back home. They are light years behind. There is a lack of freedom.”

Language and culture was a barrier, but everyone worked together to determine what had to be done, said Gallo.

When they arrived, they found a backlog of 6,500 cases, mostly in crimes of national security and terrorism. There were no records, no paperwork.

Some prisoners had been held for three, four and five years and didn't even know why they were being held there.

“There was political corruption at the highest level, that which could undermine the legitimacy of the Iraqi government,” said Gallo.

Under the 35-year rule of Saddam Hussain, everyone did what they were told, even the judges, Gallo said.

“It was a puppet system. Efficient, but not judicial. The court system lost its independence. Rulings were made but not according to the facts and the law,” Gallo revealed.

The task force faced a multi-faceted mission — dismiss cases, cleanup and resolve cases, and try and prosecute cases.

Iraqi judges and investigators were taught the basics: how to follow up on leads, what to do when you need more evidence, how to compile evidence, when to dismiss a case and when to go to trial, how to keep records, and how to process a case.

It was stressed that they couldn't hold people indefinitely. They were reminded that a person's religious beliefs were not a factor in determining guilt or innocence.

The Central Criminal Court of Iraq was created to handle cases of national security. Trial judges were schooled in the civil law system. By the time the task force left Iraq, there were 16 investigative judges and nine trial judges in place at the Central Criminal Court of Iraq.

For Gallo, the experience was exhilarating, dangerous at times, frustrating, exciting, challenging and professionally rewarding.

He said the results of the efforts of the U.S. government in Iraq in the rule of law arena are a generational sort of endeavor. People understood and appreciated the fact that this is a long-term process filled with challenges and that it will take time to firmly take root.

“We made progress,” he said. “The Iraqi people want a safe society. I believe the first place to start is having a judicial system people can rely on. Iraqi people want that too.”

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