TIPSHEET: International law expert available to discuss Afghan troop build-up

A leading international law expert cautions that the troop surge in Afghanistan must be accompanied by a concurrent improvement in the nation’s system of justice, now plagued by lawlessness and graft. Mike Newton, professor of the practice of law at Vanderbilt University, was part of an elite team of experts who prepared the judges and prosecutors for the trial that eventually led to Saddam Hussein’s conviction.

“A troop surge and change in strategy must be accompanied by correlative improvement in the rule of law structures and the domestic system of justice if it is to succeed,” Newton said. “This is at the very core of our counterinsurgency doctrine.”

Newton remains involved with other nations attempting to build their own domestic rule of law structures, including Liberia and Uganda. He and co-author Michael P. Scharf outlined their Iraq experiences in Enemy of the State: The Trial and Conviction of Saddam Hussein, which won the book of the year award from the American branch of the International Law Association. Among those to whom the book was dedicated is Riyadh, Newton’s translator in Iraq, who was gunned down on the steps of his home for helping the United States.

“In Iraq, the local judges and lawyers took over the burden of building their own systems and sustaining it,” Newton said. “Iraq has been busily prosecuting terrorists under Iraqi law for years now. There are no similar processes in Afghanistan. Their system boils down to the corruption of, ‘Can you afford to pay for not being prosecuted’ or ‘Can you pay to be released from the thousands of detainees in Afghan custody.'”

The United States would want the system to be run well and in accordance with international law, but it is in everyone’s best interest for the nations involved to build the systems themselves. “Far better for them to do it imperfectly than for us to do it perfectly for them,” Newton said.

For more information on Newton’s book, visit For more biographical and contact information about Newton, who developed and teaches the innovative International Law Practice Lab at Vanderbilt, visit

Media contact: Jennifer Johnston (615) 322-NEWS