February 13, 2006

Saddam Husayn Trial Resumes

The trial of Saddam Husayn, which has been ongoing fitfully since November 2005, resumed today. Unlike the last two sessions earlier this month (February 1 and 2), Saddam and his co-defendants were present and as expected, caused numerous disruptions. According to Saddam, he was forced to appear. Given how disruptive he was, I am surprised the judge did not reconsider having Saddam in the courtroom.

Saddam Husayn and his co-deefndants are being charged for the deaths of over 140 people in the village of Dujayl in 1982 following an unsuccessful assassination attempt on the president. Some observations from watching the proceedings:

Saddam began his disruptive behavior as he and his seven co-defendants were brought into the courtroom. Actually, Saddam was outdone by his half-brother, former Iraqi Intelligence Service (Al-Mukhabarat) chief Barzan Ibrahim Hasan Al-Tikriti. Saddam began with a loud outburst that included "Long live Iraq, long live the ummah (Islamic nation), down with the traitors, down with Bush." He then complained that he was forced to appear against his will and that his legal team was not present (they are boycotting the proceedings). Of course, Saddam questioned the legitimacy of the court. He also demanded that he be called the "current" rather than "former" President of the Republic.

Barzan complained that the Americans on the military installation where he is being held have refused him medical examinations and have withheld medication. He asked the judge to order the Americans to release him so he could obtain medical treatment. The judge told him to have the results of a medical examination be sent to the court. As the proceedings began, he turned his back on the judge and sat on the floor. He only got up to question the last witness, a former Intelligence Service officer - and did a rather effective job.

The session, once allowed to get underway, began with the reading of 23 witness statements, all fairly similar accusing the defendants of murder, torture, unfair imprisonment and destruction of property. In the Iraqi system, the judge - who heads a nine-member tribunal - can take these statements as evidence. The Iraqi system is based on French and Egyptian legal norms. As such, the judge functions as the examining magistrate. He conducts the investigation, he directs examination of witnesses, and ultimately determines innocence or guilt.

The first live witness was Ahmad Khudhayr Hasan As-Samarra'i, former head of the Presidential diwan, sort of like the White House chief of staff. He served in this position from 1984 to 1991, and again from 1995 to 2003. He was not appearing by choice. Many times when asked questions by the prosecutor, he said he did not remember, citing the over 20 years since the incident. Interestingly, he said he doubts there are documents directly tying Saddam to the crime since this was just "a simple matter, routine."

The second live witness was Hasan Al-'Ubaydi, the director the external service of the Iraqi Intelligence Service. He also did not remember anything specific pertaining to the incident, claiming he was in a six-month training course at the time. Saddam found the loss of memory of the two witnesses to be amusing.

The trial will resume Tuesday (February 14).