Thursday, April 30, 2009

Face of Defense: Airman Provides Legal Advice on Detainee Operations

By Air Force Staff Sgt. Tim Beckham
Special to American Forces Press Service

April 30, 2009 - Many Air Force attorneys spend their days providing legal counsel and preparing documents, but for one Air Force captain here, being deployed means serving in a one-of-a-kind legal position. Capt. Sophia Crawford, detention, judicial and legal policy attorney in the Multinational Force Iraq staff judge advocate's office, provides a service that she would never get to do outside of Iraq. She is the U.S. legal representative on issues pertaining to detention facilities.

"I specifically work in detention operations, so everything that has to with a detainee or anything potentially relating to a detainee is what I do," said Crawford, who is deployed from Maxwell Air Force Base's Gunter Annex, Ala. "This could range from detainee deaths to detainee imagery. We also deal with interrogation procedures, and provide legal reviews and advice to the MNF-I commanding general."

Working in this area of responsibility is a singular experience, she said, because she has to work from three sides of the law.

"Just learning all the law has been a challenge," Crawford said. "We must have the appropriate authority to detain someone and authority to question someone. This, she added, represents a dramatic change brought about with the Jan. 1 implementation of the security agreement between the United States and Iraq.

"It's a big realm of law," the Dallas native said. "Not only do we use United States law, but we use international law and abide by Iraqi law. We have to coordinate and make sure we operate within all three. It's a lot of coordination with Iraq."

Air Force attorneys are compelled to view cases objectively and do what is in the best interest of the United States.

"I am a JAG who represents the United States, and it's my job to advocate for the commander," Crawford said. "I'm also a prosecutor, and it's my responsibility to make sure people are operating within the law. No matter who you are, you have to realize that detainees have rights."

The 30-member Multinational Force Iraq legal team is a total-force operation, with reserve-component and active-duty attorneys ranging from captains to colonels in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Coast Guard, and even the Australian army.

"I have just learned so much," Crawford said. "I am the junior-ranking officer, so everyone is a mentor to me. It has been a great experience from the officer standpoint as well as a JAG."

(Air Force Staff Sgt. Tim Beckham serves with U.S. Air Forces Central's Baghdad Media Outreach Team.)

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