February 2, 2006

Saddam Husayn - The Trial

After a series of delays and courtroom antics, the trial of Saddam Husayn and seven co-defendants resumed on February 1. This was the first session under the supervision of the new judge, Ru'uf 'Abd Ar-Rahman. Ironically, Judge 'Abd Ar-Rahman is a Kurd from the village of Halabjah, a town that was bombarded by the Iraqi Air Force with chemical weapons, killing an estimated 5000 people.

This is the first in an expected series of trials of Saddam. This trial charges the eight defendants with the murder of 140 Iraqi Shi'a in the village of Dujayl in 1982 after an attack on Saddam's motorcade. If found guilty, the defendants could face the death penalty.

The proceedings went smoothly, probably because of the notable absence of Saddam Husayn and four of his co-defendants, including his notorious half brother and intelligence chief Barzan Ibrahim Al-Tikriti and former vice president Taha Yasin Ramadhan. Under Iraqi law, they do not have to appear. Although the prosecutor asked the judge to compel them to appear, the judge opted to continue the trial without all defendants present. For the session on February 2, none of the eight defendants were present in court. It was an interesting scene - no defendants in the dock.

Judge 'Abd Ar-Rahman has taken control of the trial, not tolerating the courtroom antics we saw under the previous judge, Rizkar Muhammad Amin (also a Kurd). On January 28, when Saddam attempted to make a statement out of turn, 'Abd Al-Rahman ordered him to be quiet, Saddam said he was leaving the courtroom. In what was a rather comical exchange, the judge responded by saying that Saddam couldn't leave because he (the judge) was expelling him. This went on for a few minutes. It was reminiscent of the "you can't fire me because I quit" routine.

The judge is running the trial efficiently. The Iraqi system is different than the U.S./English system. Iraqi criminal law is based on a combination of Egyptian and French procedures. There is no jury - the tribunal will determine guilt. The judges of the tribunal run the investigation as well as the trial. Evidence can be collected prior to the trial. Once court convenes, the judge takes testimony and asks the questions. After he is done with a witness or complainant, the prosecutor may propose questions. If the judge concurs, the questions are put to the witness. Then the defense attorney is afforded the same opportunity; the defendant may also speak at this time.

In the sessions of February 1 and 2, there was a much direct testimony as well as a lot of what a U.S. court would consider hearsay. The testimony of the complainants and witnesses was riveting and disturbing. The men and women described in detail how they were arrested, interrogated, tortured and imprisoned after the failed attack on Saddam in 1982. The witnesses directly implicated seven of the eight defendants, including Barzan and Taha Yasin. There was no direct evidence presented that implicated Saddam Husayn other than claims that he signed the orders. There was no proof presented of Saddam's guilt. Given the Iraqi system, direct evidence and proof of Saddam's guilt may already be in the hands of the tribunal.

This is the first trial of what may turn out to 14 trials of Saddam. Although many think that they should execute him if he is found guilty, the Iraqis want to hold the entire series of trials to fully investigate and exhibit the atrocities committed by the Saddam Husayn regime.