Carter and the Killer


For the past few months, one of life's exquisitely painful pleasures has been reading my buddy Captain Phil Carter's e-mails home from Iraq -- and not being able to say a thing about ' he got to the sandbox, Phil has been sending regular, sometimes-heartbreaking, sometimes-hilarious reports about his unit's attempts to train the local police in the Baqubah region -- and restore the rule of law, in the process. But despite my regular begging, Phil has been reluctant to share his progress with the wider world without Army permission. Now, luckily, the Wall Street Journal's Greg Jaffe has paid Phil & Co. a visit, so y'all can read about the amazing work Phil is doing.

Capt. Phillip Carter visits the filthy, overcrowded prison here at least twice a week to meet with the warden and police officers who oversee the facility. Each time he stops by, the warmest greeting he receives comes from a burly 46-year-old convicted murderer.Hamid Abboud was found guilty in 1998 of killing a man in a fight and sentenced to 20 years in prison. He was released and granted amnesty in 2002. Under Iraqi law, he should now be free. But he was mysteriously re-arrested in 2004 on the old charges and remains incarcerated, ordered to serve out the rest of his sentence.Capt. Carter, a 30-year-old military police soldier who is a lawyer in civilian life, could demand Mr. Abboud's release and the Iraqis would likely comply. But he doesn't. Instead he prods judges and prosecutors in this province an hour's drive from Baghdad to uphold Iraqi law and set Mr. Abboud free on their own."I have faith because of your work," Mr. Abboud told Capt. Carter in late May, when the temperature had risen above 100 degrees and the stench in the prison, crammed to four times its legal capacity, was almost unbearable. "My fate is in your hands."Why a U.S. Army captain took on the case of a convicted murderer speaks volumes about how the American strategy has changed in Iraq in the past six months, as the U.S. tries to turn control back to the Iraqis. It also shows how painful and halting progress in Iraq can be.Capt. Carter hopes to use the case to make a larger point: that the Iraqi judicial system, dominated by personal and sectarian grudges, needs to follow its own rules. "It appeared like the perfect test case, because it would show that the result should be dictated by Iraqi law and not by the whim of any individual," he says...Mr. Abboud was among those granted amnesty in 2002 when Saddam Hussein, just before the U.S. invasion, freed tens of thousands of prisoners in Iraq.Following the fall of Mr. Hussein in 2003, the U.S. decided to honor the amnesty. The decision was made largely out of necessity: It would have been too hard to round up all the prisoners, and then figure out who had been imprisoned legitimately and who had been incarcerated for political reasons, say U.S. officials familiar with the decision. The Iraqi government has let the amnesty stand. So under Iraqi law, prisoners released in 2002 should be free today.Capt. Carter figured that if he could persuade judges in Baqubah to follow their own rules and release a guilty man, maybe they would be more likely to respect the law in other cases, where the inmates appeared to be innocent. "If we can solve this case according to the law, we can solve all the cases in the jail," he says.
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