April 5, 2006

The Ongoing Trials of Saddam Husayn

The 18th and 19th sessions of the first trial of former Iraqi leader Saddam Husayn were held on April 4 and 5, 2006. During these sessions, additional charges were filed, indicating a second trial as soon as the current trial ends. Saddam is currently on trial for the murder of 140 Shi'a Iraqis in the village of Dujayl in 1982. (See my earlier: Saddam Husayn Trial: Getting Closer to Actual Evidence.)

In the latest two sessions, the chief prosecutor questioned Saddam on the documentary evidence presented last month implicating the leader in the trial and execution the residents of Dujayl involved in an assassination attempt in July 1982. Saddam and his legal team (including volatile Lebanese lawyer Bushra Khalil) challenged not only the legitimacy of the documents and previous eyewitness testimony but the legitimacy and authority of the court as well.

It appears that this trial is entering the final phase. Since there is no jury - guilt will be decided by the five-man tribunal headed by Judge Ru'uf 'Abd Ar-Rahman (a Kurd from Halabjah) - a verdict could come in short order. Saddam and his seven co-defendants face the death penalty.

As this case draws to a close, new charges have been filed for a second trial. These charges include a charge of genocide and cite Saddam's actions in the six-month "Anfal" campaign against the Kurds of northern Iraq in 1988. That campaign included the notorious chemical weapons attack on Halabjah in which 5,000 Kurds were killed, however, these charges do not include this incident - Halabjah will be the subject a specific charge against Saddam and at least another defendant, 'Ali Hasan Al-Majid (also known as "Chemical 'Ali").

The Anfal campaign took place during the last six months of the eight-year Iran-Iraq war. It is likely that Saddam's defense team, or Saddam himself in one of his courtroom tirades, will raise American support for his regime in 1987 and 1988. Perhaps some background and perspective is in order.

I was one of two Defense Intelligence Agency officers involved in that support. While I was in Baghdad in March 1988, the Iraqis conducted the attack on Halabjah using air-delivered chemical weapons. A month later, they used chemical weapons in their re-taking of the Al-Faw peninsula which they had lost to the Iranians in 1986. I visited the battlefields soon after the fighting ended and was able to acquire physical evidence of Iraq's use of chemical weapons.

This irrefutable information from Al-Faw plus international outrage over the attacks on Halabjah caused the United States to reassess its relationship with Iraq. The debate in Washington was, "Do we continue our relations with the Iraqis and make sure the Iranians do not win this war, which was the goal of the operation all along - or do we let the Iraqis fight this on their own without any U.S. assistance, and they'll probably lose?" Neither option was very palatable. The decision was that it was more important that Iran not win the war - the relationship resumed.

Saddam's lawyers will no doubt attempt to raise this earlier U.S.-Iraqi cooperation.