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The Rule of Law in the Context of US Military Operations

The Rule of Law in the Context of US Military Operations

The Rule of Law in the Context of US Military Operations: An Insider’s View from JTF/CJIATF 435 in Afghanistan 2010-2011

Thomas L. English


I dedicate this article to the memory of CPT Laura Eberts US Army 1979 -2011 whose tireless work and absolute dedication to the mission of the Rule of Law[i] (ROL) made invaluable contributions to the security and stabilization of Afghanistan. CPT Eberts’ duty in Afghanistan was to assist Afghan prosecutors in starting their own criminal justice system. Tragically, she passed away within weeks of leaving Afghanistan while on her honeymoon. There is no one who worked harder or dedicated themselves more to Justice in Afghanistan than Laura Eberts.


Virtually my entire adult life, over forty years, has been dedicated to the enforcement of law in many different contexts. I base this article on my personal observations and perceptions from participation in the leadership of the Legal Operations Directorate for CJIATF (Combined Joint Interagency Task Force) 435 from September 2010 to May 2011. “CJIATF” has special meaning and significance. In military parlance, Task Forces are typically “joint” if they include various branches of the armed forces. In Afghanistan, the U.S. Government utilized the combination of joint military (Navy, Army, Air Force and Marine) with civilian agencies (Department of State (DOS), Department of Justice (DOJ), Department of Agriculture, etc.). The use of the CJIATF evidences the desired direction for ROL in Afghanistan and potentially for future operations conducted by the United States.

I choose the title for this article based on the speech I utilized to motivate my team which is an excerpt from Theodore Roosevelt that I feel fits the bill: “It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming…”[ii] This article illuminates ROL from a practitioner’s perspective as it chronicles my experiences from years in law enforcement, legal, judicial in both civilian and military contexts. During my tenure in Afghanistan, my job was to support combat operations within a ROL framework. Everything I had encountered in my career influenced my ability to do my job in Afghanistan at a time when our Country needed me to step-up to the plate.

I have worked as a police officer, investigator, prosecutor, criminal defense attorney, judge and senior military leader. My domestic work was at the local, state and federal levels. I have worked on international ROL projects in the Balkans, East Timor, Indonesia and Afghanistan.

Read More:The Rule of Law in the Context of US Military Operations | Small Wars Journal.

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