Hussein Trial Put Off Amid Doubts About Fairness
by Jim Lobe
international human rights groups have long wanted former Iraqi
President Saddam Hussein to face trial for war crimes and crimes
against humanity, they have serious reservations about whether proceedings
that got underway in Baghdad Wednesday will meet international standards
Rights Watch (HRW) has been most outspoken about the rules governing
the trial by the Supreme Iraqi Criminal Tribunal (SICT) which, after
a session in which Hussein and his seven co-defendants pleaded not
guilty to charges stemming from a 1982 incident in which nearly
150 men and boys were executed after an assassination attempt against
Hussein, adjourned until Nov. 28.
have grave concerns that the court will not ensure fair trial,"
said Richard Dicker, director of HRW's International Justice Program
as the court opened its doors Wednesday morning. "To ensure
justice and its own legitimacy, the court must fix these deficiencies."
International, which has dispatched three observers to Baghdad to
witness the trial, has also expressed concerns about the Court's
respect for basic due process rights at various points during the
preparation for the trial after Hussein's apprehension by U.S. forces
in December 2003.
defense team, which claims to have had far too little time to prepare
its case, has also made clear they will point out the tribunal's
deficiencies at every possible occasion.
this was a regular murder trial at the Old Bailey in London, the
defense would have had been granted six months to prepare,"
one of Hussein's lawyers, Abdel al Haq al-Ani, told Reuters on the
opening day. "The Americans are intent on making this pure
theater, a show trial," he added.
administration of U.S. President George W. Bush has insisted that
the trial is entirely Iraqi-controlled. "Saddam Hussein is
facing Iraqi justice," White House spokesman Scott McClellan
the basic law under which Hussein is being tried was written under
the supervision of the U.S.-led Coalition Provisional Authority
(CPA) and has been modified only slightly since the transitional
government was constituted last spring.
to HRW, Washington has so far spent some $128 million on the investigation
and prosecution efforts against Hussein and more than a dozen of
his aides to date. It also covered the costs of converting the former
Ba'ath Party headquarters in Baghdad into a courthouse where this
and other trials are to be held.
to the New York Times, the U.S.-led Regime Crimes Liaison
Office, which also included lawyers and international justice experts
from other Coalition countries, particularly Britain and Australia,
has been "the real power behind the tribunal, advising, and
often deciding, on almost every facet of its work, always behind
a shield of anonymity."
foreign hand in the proceedings, as well as the fact that none of
the five judges assigned to the initial case are Sunni Arabs like
Hussein, has fueled the impression that the ousted leader faces
impression has been furthered by the fact that court officials with
any previous ties to the Ba'ath Party, regardless of their rank
or importance, have been systematically purged from the tribunal
and its administration by Iraqi politicians. Prominent among them
is Ahmed Chalabi, whose "de-Ba'athification" efforts are
given much of the blame here for the alienation of the Sunni community
from the political process and the growth and persistence of the
Sunni-based insurgency over the past two years.
trial that got underway Wednesday is to be the first of a number
of cases against Hussein.
first case is based on events in the mostly Shia town of Dujail
following a bloody but failed assassination attempt by 19 men
apparently members of the Dawa movement whose current leader, Ibrahim
Jaafari, is now Iraq's president against Hussein in 1982.
the attack on his motorcade, Hussein ordered sweeping reprisals
against the civilian population. More than 1,500 residents were
reportedly rounded up and sent to bleak, overcrowded desert prisons
where at least 200 are believed to have died. One hundred forty-three
men and boys were tried and executed for their alleged complicity
in the attack.
the Dujail case is by no means the worst of the crimes alleged committed
by the Hussein government, the fact that it was the easiest to prepare
put it first in line.
case arising from the notorious 1988 Anfal campaign in which tens
of thousands of Kurds are believed to have been killed, some with
chemical weapons, is reportedly nearly complete, while yet another
concerning the bloody suppression of the Shia revolt in southern
Iraq after the first Gulf War in 1991 is also being prepared.
selection of these has also fueled criticisms of "victor's
justice." "The narrow scope of the charges seems designed
to ensure that U.S. complicity with Hussein's crimes will be excluded
from real scrutiny," noted Richard Falk, a prominent international
law expert at Princeton University.
which according to some historians helped promote Hussein's rise
to power, backed Iraq during the eight-year Iran-Iraq war, a point
seized on Thursday by senior Iranian officials Wednesday who said
they believed that he should be tried for crimes committed in that
war, including the use of chemical weapons against civilians.
occupiers just want to execute him without clarification of their
role in supporting Saddam when he was in power," Justice Minister
Jamal Karimirad complained.
groups had urged Washington to ask the UN Security Council to establish
an international court to try Hussein similar to the one at The
Hague that is currently trying former Yugoslav President Slobodan
Milosevic or, at least, a mixed Iraqi-international court similar
to the one now working in Sierra Leone.
the Bush administration, which had launched a diplomatic campaign
against the new International Criminal Court (ICC) and remained
resentful of the UN's refusal to approve a resolution authorizing
military action against Iraq, refused, insisting on an exclusively
Iraqi court, albeit one that depended virtually entirely on U.S.
and western financing and advice.
has insisted that the court meets international standards, as McClellan
said Wednesday. "They have established the basic standards
that you would expect of international law," he said. "I
think the trial is a symbol that the rule of law is returning to
in a report released last weekend, HRW said the tribunal's procedures
fell short of international standards. The judges, for example,
will be able to convict Hussein if they are merely "satisfied"
by the evidence, as opposed to their being convinced beyond a reasonable
addition, the refusal of a defendant to answer a question can be
used against him in defiance of international law's protections
against self-incrimination. Finally, Hussein's lawyers have thus
far not been given the kind of unconditional access to their client
or to the evidence against him that is normally required by international
standards. Hussein's attorneys, for example, only received a partial
witness list from the prosecution in the Dujail case last month.
addition, no current international tribunal permits a death sentence.
Not only does Iraqi law permit such a sentence for a range of different
crimes, but once a death penalty sentence is pronounced, it must
be carried out within 30 days of the final appeal, a provision that
raises at least the possibility that Hussein may be executed before
other cases are heard.
Lobe [send him mail]
is Inter Press Service's correspondent in Washington, DC.
© 2005 Inter Press Service