Parks White wears a suit to work as an assistant district attorney prosecuting felonies in the Richmond County judicial circuit, but last year he commuted to work in a Black Hawk helicopter wearing bulky body armor and a pistol strapped to his leg. As a lieutenant and lawyer in the Navy Judge Advocate General’s Corps, his job was to work in tandem with the Iraqi justice system to prosecute insurgents.
“It was a completely different way of life,” said White, who often worked from 10 a.m. until 1 a.m., shuttling between courtrooms under heavy guard.
A key point in negotiations to leave Iraq was whether some service members would stay behind as trainers; the Iraqi government does not want to grant American troops immunity from prosecution under Iraqi law in a renewed Status of Forces Agreement.
White, who became a reservist in March, said service members cannot refuse deployment, so they should be guaranteed protection under our justice system if a foreign nation accuses them of breaking the law.
“The Iraqi government is trying to have it both ways by requesting our continued presence, but not providing the United States with a SOFA that will ensure our service members those protections,” White said.
Countries with a major American presence, such as Germany and Japan, have long-established status agreements. But many other countries don’t, as White learned on a trip aboard a ship carrying Marines around South America, from Pascagoula, Miss., to San Diego, Calif. At one port call in Chile, a sailor was arrested by local authorities after he was caught with an underage prostitute. The sailor was eventually released after it was established no sexual contact had occurred, but he could have been held in Chile for prosecution because there was no status agreement, said White, who was on board the ship as a legal liaison.
White gained a newfound respect for the American justice system after working for 10 months with Iraqi judges. The Iraqi justice system has its advantages, White said, but it also highlighted the freedoms that Americans enjoy.
Though life might not be as hectic at the Richmond County courthouse as it was in Iraq, White finds his work here more exciting.
“Serving your country is sort of a nebulous idea,” he said. “Trying cases here is so much more immediate and you can see the impact on the community.”