Career Spotlight: D. Rodney Brown
On November 5, 2006, UF College of Law graduate D. Rodney Brown (JD 91) stood at the rear of the courtroom in Baghdad when deposed Iraqi president Saddam Hussein was found guilty of crimes against humanity and sentenced to death by the Iraqi High Tribunal. As Hussein was led away by guards after a defiant outburst, Hussein walked within a few feet of Brown. Hussein smiled at Brown, and Brown politely returned the gesture.
That was the closest that Brown, an assistant U.S. attorney in Jacksonville, came to the notorious Iraqi ruler during the six months he was deployed as an attorney advisor with the U.S. Department of Justice’s Regime Crimes Liaison’s Office at the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad.
Brown was deployed in Operation Iraqi Freedom after responding to a request from the Department of Justice for prosecutors willing to spend six months in Baghdad assisting and advising the Iraqi High Tribunal in the investigation and prosecution of high ranking members of the former Iraqi regime.
“I have never been in the military but always admired those who served,” Brown said later, “especially the military veterans who became federal agents and investigated cases which I prosecuted. So the service part of the opportunity appealed to me. It was something I was being led to do.”
Back home in the United States, Brown’s usual work day as an AUSA involves investigating and prosecuting criminal cases in federal court, including drug trafficking, child exploitation, violent crime and firearms cases. In Iraq, Brown and the other American lawyers assisting the tribunal were not in the courtroom during the trial proceedings. Instead their duties included assisting judges, prosecutors and even defense attorneys behind the scenes with security, logistics, defendant and witness transportation, legal arguments, and proper courtroom procedures. He said it was “organized chaos.”
However, it was the travel throughout the country to locate and interview witnesses to mass killings of Iraqi citizens by the former regime that impacted Brown most. One case involved the investigation of the suppression of the 1991 Shi’ite uprising in which his team had to connect victims discovered in several mass graves to the criminal acts committed by the former regime. American forensic anthropologists would clean clothing found in the graves, arrange it on mannequins, and then photograph the mannequins. The photos then would be shown to potential witnesses in town near the mass grave sites for identification. Because much of the clothing was handmade, surviving relatives could identify it 15 years later.
“The victims were glad we were there. They wanted their stories told,” Brown said.
In another investigation in northern Iraq, Brown said regime troops had taken every male over the age of 11 from several different villages and deported them. Brown also spent a week in Kurdistan working with the Kurdish minister of human rights investigating the 1983 genocide of the Barzani tribe, in which the remains of 513 men were found in a mass grave in southern Iraq.
He was appointed a special deputy United States Marshal and carried a weapon constantly during his tour. Although he flew more than 30 helicopter missions without taking fire, there were times—such as one afternoon in late January 2007 when four rockets struck and exploded just outside the U.S. Embassy as he worked inside—that came a little too close.
On November 11, 2006, Brown and over 250 other Americans ran the Baghdad International Memorial Marathon. He said that the race, which coursed through parts of downtown Baghdad in the International Zone, was one of the highlights of his deployment.
Brown watched and celebrated the Gators football national championship game in Baghdad, and gloated over the victory to several of his fellow lawyers who hailed from Ohio.
Brown said the Iraqis with whom he worked were appreciative of the American presence and treated him and his colleagues very well. It was, he said, the experience of a lifetime to be part of one of the trials of the century, like being at the Nuremburg trials in the 1940s.
On Brown’s last day in Baghdad before returning home, he visited several of the judges with whom he had worked closely to say goodbye. The judge thanked Brown for his service and stated that he wished that Brown could stay in Iraq for 10 years. Brown responded, “I don’t think that my wife would like that.”