At DePaul Univeristy's Law School there is a group called the International Human Rights Law Institute (IHRLI). They have a program called “Raising the Bar: Legal Education Reform in Iraq. This program is funded by a several million dollar grant from the State Department's United States Agency for International Development (USAID). This reform project is intended to teach Iraqi lawyers, judges and law professors what they need to know to create a legal system modeled on the supposedly democratic US model.
On the surface the program looks like it is doing good and helping Iraqi's rebuild their country. IHRLI has brought Iraqi lawyers to visit the US and meet with judges and lawyers in Chicago. They have rebuilt the law library at Baghdad University. The director of the Institute, M. Cherif Bassiouni has even been nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize for his work in creating the International Criminal Court.
Underneath the surface there is a different story though. Originally “Raising the Bar” was to be directed by Feisal Istrabadi. Istrabadi is a member of a conservative group of Iraqi exiles that supported the US invasion of Iraq called the “Iraqi Forum for Democracy.” Istrabadi took a position in the puppet government instead though. For time under the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA), Istrabadi was Iraq's ambassador to the United Nations, as appointed by the US.
It was during this time that he made a visit to DePaul. He gave a speech and when the time came for questions, one student asked Istrabadi, “You speak of democracy and elections in Iraq, but since Iraq has already taken out 11 million dollars in loans from the International Monetary Fund, what option will ordinary Iraqi's have at the ballot but US approved, pro-free trade, pro-sweatshop, pro-Washington Consensus candidates?”
Istrabadi replied, “I would hope that Iraq sees more of the Washington consensus.”
Directing the Clinical Education aspect of the “Raising the Bar” initiative is Haider Ala Hamoudi. Hamoudi has stated several times that he wishes to run a corporate law firm in Baghdad. Hamoudi has also said that he sees challenges in Iraqi law, like how being a capitalist and being able to own a company does not exist in Iraqi legal code. He used to work for the international corporate law firm Debevoise & Plimpton, which represented clients such as J.P. Morgan, AT&T, and Shell Oil. They were also involved in a representing “numerous engineering and construction claims against foreign sovereigns including Iraq.”
At a forum at DePaul IHRLI member Yaser Tabbara described how “Raising the Bar” was going to help Iraqi law professors learn about a number of topics including international human rights law, international business and trade law.
It seems upon closer inspection that IHRLI's project is concerned with making sure that Iraqi's accept corporate law. Even if individuals involved with IHRLI think they are promoting learning and cooperation between Iraqi's and American's, it must be kept in mind that the State Department and USAID would not give IHRLI millions of dollars unless “Raising the Bar” served the interests of the US. Even if some members of IHRLI are well intentioned and opposed the invasion, they are playing into the hands of the invading and occupying force and providing a liberal cover for a right wing campaign.
For example, one of IHRLI's other projects in Iraq is the collecting of personal experiences from victims of Saddam Hussein. What this project is desperately missing is for IHRLI to collect personal experiences from Iraqi's who have been victimized by the US invasion and occupation. It needs to interview the mother whose son was bombed, the prisoner who was tortured at Abu Ghraib, and the labor activist who was arrested for organizing a union. But IHRLI is not acting as a non-partisan human rights group, rather it is being funded by USAID and thus must act in accordance to with US goals in Iraq.
In the US model of Iraq, they will need professors to teach corporate law to a new generation of law students. This educated elite of Iraqi law students will not fight for ordinary Iraqi's but will instead fight for the rights of multinational corporations to open up sweatshops in Iraq. They will be elected to public office, sign free trade agreements and privatize Iraq's major resources, like oil, selling them to the highest bidder. They will continue to enforce law 150 Saddam Hussein made in 1987 banning Unions among workers, a law that the US military occupation continues to enforce against groups like the Federation of Workers Councils and Unions in Iraq. Since they took out loans from the World Bank and International Monetary Fund, they will be indebted forced to implement Structural Adjustment Programs that drive poor countries even further into debt and makes the global rich even richer.
IHRLI is teaching Iraqi lawyers international human rights law to try Saddam for war crimes, but what about using that same law to try those in Washington who supplied Saddam with chemical weapons in the 1980's, who enforced the sanction on Iraq that killed over ½ million children, and who invaded Iraq killing upwards of 100,000. IHRLI's director, M. Cherif Bassiouni, could teach Iraqi's how to bring people like Bush Sr., Bush Jr., Bill Clinton, Madeline Albright, Donald Rumsfeld, Paul Wolfowitz and even Saddam Hussein to the International Criminal Court. Unless IHRLI redefines it's mission in Iraq along these lines, it should immediately cease all operations in Iraq.
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