Professor promotes rule of law in Iraq

March 30th, 2011  |  by  |  Published in People

James Pietsch portrait

Professor Pietsch in his law school office; photo by Reese Moriyama

University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa Professor James Pietsch recently received the Secretary of the Army Award for Public Service for extraordinary contributions as a volunteer with the Law and Order Task Force for Multinational Force-Iraq in Baghdad.

A retired Army Reserve officer, Pietsch was granted study leave by William S. Richardson School of Law after being invited by U.S. officials to assist with the establishment of the task force during summer 2007. He hitched a ride with elements of the Hawaiʻi-based 25th Infantry Division to Iraq, where he served as chief of the task force’s research, education and training branch.

Pietsch helped organize a secure complex for judges, prosecutors, defense counsel and prisoners held for trial under Iraqi law. He returned in 2008 to help the U.S. State Department and Iraqi Bar Association establish Iraq’s first legal aid clinic for detainees. The structure of the clinic at the Rusafa Detention Facility and its operational manual were based on his experience establishing the UH Elder Law Program. The model is being replicated in other detention facilities in Iraq.

Although Pietsch says he always felt safe, the citation notes that “he willingly subjected himself to the considerable threat present in the operational environment in Baghdad.” It lauds his “passionate commitment to the rule of law and thorough professionalism.”

A U.S. Pacific Command representative who heard Pietsch talk about his experiences in Iraq invited him to assist with rule of law initiatives in the troubled young country of Timor-Leste in 2010. His pro bono work continues through the Hammurabi Legal Forum, which affords UH law students with opportunities to conduct legal research for governmental and non-governmental organizations and law schools in Iraq, Afghanistan and Timor-Leste.

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