Person of the Week: Greg Kehoe

Greg Kehoe is an American lawyer who for the past year has advised the special tribunal that will try Saddam Hussein and members of his former regime. They are charged with, among other things, genocide and crimes against humanity.

"Democracy cannot take hold in any country without the establishment of the rule of law and an emergence in the faith of the court system," Kehoe said. "I don't think I've ever been in a situation where that was such an important ingredient to the peace and stability of a society, but it is."

Building a credible justice system in a war zone is an enormous undertaking. Iraq is an occupied country with an interim government. While Saddam was in power, the judicial system was deeply corrupted.

"For decades there have been secret courts where people were spirited out in the middle of the night without counsel, without due process, and executed and tortured and sent to prisons throughout this country," Kehoe said. "No one ever knew what happened to them."

Kehoe is a prosecutor by training. As Iraqis grow closer to trying their own citizens, Kehoe and his team provide the international expertise for a complex procedure in what was a chronically dysfunctional system.

"It's crucial that the Iraqi people see that this is an honest, fair proceeding and that these individuals, should they be convicted, should be convicted on the evidence that is presented in the court of law," he said.

The Iraqi tribunal has 49 Iraqi judges and prosecutors. Finding the evidence that connects individuals at the top of the government to various atrocities is a painstaking process. Kehoe and his team must get deep into the details without it appearing to be an American process.

Reminder of Widespread Cruelty

Gathering the evidence has served as a public reminder of the cruelty that was once widespread. There are many mass grave sites.

"I've never seen anything like this," said Kehoe, while visiting a grave site. "I've never seen women and children executed, defenseless people executed in this fashion. I mean, look at a woman holding a 2-year-old child with a gunshot wound to the back of the head. I can't find any reason that would justify that."

The victims in the grave are believed to be Kurds who were killed in the late 1980s.

Kehoe has experience with this ugly work. In 1995, he was a prosecutor at the Hague in the Netherlands for the war crimes committed in Bosnia. He helped to convict a Bosnian general for, among other things, massacring women and children.

Kehoe first made a name for himself at the U.S. attorney's office in Miami. He ran cases against racketeering, murder and corruption.

"When you do narcotics cases -- and in those cases are violent crimes: kidnappings, extortions, homicides -- you grow to know the face of evil," he said.

'You Have to Answer the Call'

Kehoe grew up in the Bronx in New York City. His father was a police officer.

"You live in a neighborhood where you come to understand that when the call is made that you have to answer the call, which may cause you to be in harm's way," he said. "You may hesitate but you don't falter."

Kehoe was working as a lawyer in a private firm when he was asked by the U.S. government to go to Iraq. It has been a long and arduous process.

Said Kehoe: "For me personally, I'm always frustrated by the pace of things. I always want things to move more quickly than they have. But because of the security problems that exist here in Iraq -- not only in Baghdad but throughout the country -- you have to be more cautious."

Kehoe is cautious every single minute. This week, one of the judges and his son -- a lawyer who also worked for the tribunal -- were shot and killed as they left for work.

Kehoe says it makes his team more determined to do a tough job well.

"I just hope that people know that all of us tried to do our best," he said. "We tried to help the Iraqi special tribunal and the Iraqi people to find the truth and that we did our best while we were trying to do it under difficult circumstances. That's all."

Peter Jennings filed this report for "World News Tonight."