From the start, lawyers figured prominently in the events that helped define the Iraq war.
In the days after the conflict began on March 20, 2003, with the infamous "shock-and-awe" bombing of Baghdad, an Iraqi lawyer from Nasiriyah named Mohammed Odeh al-Rehaief helped the U.S. military rescue high-profile prisoner-of-war Jessica Lynch. Rehaief, who successfully sought asylum in the United States and worked briefly for a lobbying firm, later wrote a book about the experience.
Fern Holland, a young lawyer from Oklahoma who gave up her career at one of the state’s largest firms, Conner & Winters, to do human rights work, was one of the first U.S. civilians to die in Iraq. Insurgents wearing Iraqi police uniforms killed Holland and coalition press officer Robert Zangas—along with their Iraqi translator—on the road outside Karbala in March 2004.
Well before the last U.S. troops withdrew in December 2011, The American Lawyer‘s Ben Hallman reported on the experience of several attorneys in the combat zone, traveling to the war-torn country himself in 2008 for a feature story about Alabama native F. Wilson Myers, pictured here. (Click here for an audio interview with Hallman about his time in Iraq.)
Myers, who was in Iraq as a rule of law adviser with the U.S. Department of State, is now based in the Afghan capital of Kabul, where he serves as an international training adviser with a Justice Training Transition Program run by the Rome-based International Development Law Organization in its efforts to establish an Afghan-led continuing legal education program in the country. Myers was also among the lawyers contacted by The Am Law Daily to mark the 10th anniversary of a conflict that claimed the lives of roughly 4,500 Americans and untold Iraqis.
We also checked in with Matthew Bogdanos, a U.S. Marine Reserve colonel and Manhattan assistant district attorney who received the National Humanities Medal in 2005 from President George W. Bush for his efforts recovering stolen and missing Iraqi antiquities. Bogdanos, a senior trial counsel who is married to Quinn Emanuel Urquhart & Sullivan of counsel Claudia Bogdanos, wrote a book about his time in Iraq, with the proceeds going to the National Museum of Iraq.
Now, Bogdanos is working to raise money for veterans’ causes. Though too busy with two trials this week to write a full commentary about his experience, he alerted us to a charity boxing event scheduled for April 4 at the Broad Street Ballroom in lower Manhattan that will raise money for the nonprofit Wounded Warrior Project, which is dedicated to helping severely injured service members. (The Wall Street Journal covered last year’s event, which raised more than $53,000—and saw Bogdanos land a few jabs of his own.)
Another attorney dedicating himself to veterans’ causes is San Francisco–based Reed Smith litigation partner Jesse Miller, who has provided pro bono counsel to veterans—including some with whom he served—seeking assistance in obtaining disability and pension benefits. Miller, who became an equity partner at Reed Smith in December, is a lieutenant colonel and commander of the 1-18th Cavalry Squadron of the California National Guard.
In the final installment in our series of stories marking this year’s anniversary, Miller and Myers reflect on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Miller: The Army has played a defining role in my life and has positively influenced the lawyer and person I’ve become. Taking a moment to reflect to put words to paper makes me realize just how amazingly hectic the past five years have been—really the past 12 years since 9/11. That horrible event and the ensuing conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan have had a deep impact on all Americans, but particularly on U.S. service members and their families.
As a soldier myself, I was certainly not immune. I’ve served in the Army for nearly 22 years—first as an enlisted soldier and later as an infantry officer—with 17 of those years also practicing law. But nothing compares to the frenzy of activity, and associated ups and downs, of the last decade or so. Over that time I got married to my wife Katya just a few days before 9/11. I deployed for the first time a few months later, commanding a rifle company in Kuwait.
I lost several friends in combat in Iraq—and felt guilty when I was not with them when I returned home. I also have children and struggled being separated from them during my second deployment in Kosovo in 2009. (I had been a partner at Seyfarth Shaw until 2005, when I joined Reed Smith in between deployments as counsel—I became a nonequity partner at the firm in late 2008.) Nonetheless, when I returned I found an unexpected source of solace representing service members and veterans pro bono, pursuing the medical and pension benefits they earned and deserved.
After I returned from a one-year deployment to Kosovo in early 2009, I expected things might slow down a bit on the military front and I’d focus on my practice and family. By then, however, I was assigned to serve as an operations officer for the 79th Infantry Brigade Combat Team, and we spent the next three years planning for a series of deployments first to Iraq, and later to Afghanistan. We came close to deploying each time, but were ultimately "off ramped," Army-speak for a canceled deployment.
In July 2012, I was selected for command of a cavalry squadron, and at the end of the year we learned that we would be deploying to Afghanistan this summer. Notwithstanding the past off-ramps, we were 90 percent sure that this would be a go. So, once again, I began to prepare for the transition for my practice and my family.
About one month out from mobilization to active duty, we received word that we were being "off ramped" again. This most recent change-up has not been easy. But I am looking forward to being home with my family and focusing on my law practice, including pro bono work for veterans.
Serving as a "citizen soldier" these past 12 years has been hard work, but I would not trade the experience of serving my country during this period for anything. The wars have given us all much to reflect upon, but for now we should not forget that many of our countrymen are still in harm’s way overseas.
And we owe it to them—and to all the service members that have gone before them—not to forget the sacrifices they and their families are making. On that note, I would like to thank my family and Reed Smith for their support over the past several years. None of my service would mean much without the support of folks back home.
Myers: Originally opposed to the Iraq war, I arrived to Baghdad in 2004 with mixed emotions and concerns. However, working within the Coalition Provisional Authority’s Ministry of Justice proved to be an outstanding experience that changed my life and attitudes toward many things. I worked with a dedicated group of mostly prosecutors and, being a longtime blue-collar criminal defense attorney, I felt at times like a cat in a room full of rocking chairs.
Since I was the only defense lawyer in the office, I was assigned the job of working with the Iraqi Bar Association, Baghdad College of Law, and training local defense lawyers in the new laws. Through these efforts, I met outstanding Iraqi legal professionals that taught more than I ever taught them, and learned that lawyers in Iraq were yearning for current knowledge and wanted to bust out of the bubble of depravation imposed on them by Saddam Hussein.
When I left Iraq in 2005 to return to Alabama to reestablish my solo law practice, I did not plan to return. Nevertheless, there was something changed about me and it was hard for me to concentrate on my criminal defense practice, after having been to Iraq and seen what I saw in the jails, the struggles of lawyers and their clients, and a justice system striving to enter the world of acknowledged international due process and rule of law.
When offered the opportunity to return to Iraq in 2006, I accepted and decided that my legal path was set on international rule of law issues. (My time in Baghdad during this time is best summarized in The American Lawyer article.) One of my best experiences occurred in 2008 when I was assigned to Iraq’s Kurdistan region, where I worked with the Erbil Regional Reconstruction Team.
There, I worked directly with incredible Kurdish lawyers, judges, law college deans and professors, and other justice sector professionals, to develop a long-term strategy for rule of law development. This effort brought together all segments of Kurdistan’s civil society—such as its regional government, judiciary, legislature, law enforcement, bar association, nongovernmental organizations, and lawyers and citizens—to craft a 10-year road map for legal reforms and enhancements in the Kurdistan region.
The dedication to justice displayed through this effort was awe inspiring and the strategy produced is an example of what can be accomplished when people work together to make the rule of law a priority in society.
Editor’s note: The passages above have been condensed and edited for grammar, style, and clarity. Click here, here, and here for The Am Law Daily‘s previous first-person narratives from lawyers with personal connections to the Iraq war.