Saddam trial verdict tarnished by Iraqi court's failings

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The Independent Online

It should have been a historic opportunity. For the first time since the end of the Second World War, a tyrant and his henchmen were being put on trial for crimes against humanity by a special domestic court.

Yet the first trial against Saddam Hussein, in which he was charged with human rights violations dating back to 1982, was so rife with defects that the guilty verdict was unsound, according to Human Rights Watch.

In a 97-page report on a trial which centred on the execution of almost 150 Shia Muslims and the arrest of 1,500 in Dujail, Human Rights Watch identified the following flaws:


The court was manifestly unprepared for such a legally and factually challenging case when the trial began on 19 October 2005. Despite having US advisers, the judges and lawyers were insufficiently trained and were unprepared for the hostile environment. The level of expertise of the Iraqi trial judges, administrators, prosecutors and defence lawyers was "not sufficient to fairly and effectively try crimes of this magnitude". The prosecution and investigative judges appeared unfamiliar with the elements of proof required to establish individual criminal responsibility under international criminal law. Much documentation was not in readable form.


Three defence lawyers, including one who was acting for Saddam himself, were killed during the trial, and others were attacked by gunmen. During the televised proceedings of the opening session, while only the faces of the chief prosecutor and presiding judge were shown from among the prosecuting team, all of the defence lawyers were visible. The following day, one of the defence team, Sadoun al-Janabi, was kidnapped and shot dead. Three weeks later, Adel al-Zubeidi and Thamer al-Khuza'i, defence counsel for the defendants Taha Yassin Ramadan and Barzan al-Tikriti, were attacked by gunmen and Mr Zubeidi was killed.

Human Rights Watch said that until Mr Janabi's assassination there appeared to have been no specific proposals to ensure the safety of the defence team. They were effectively left with only one option: to relocate their families outside Iraq at their own cost and return to Iraq for the trial sessions.

The trial organisers should have been better prepared because five people working for the court were killed before the opening session. There was also no systematic protection programme for witnesses once they had appeared in court.


The report found that the Iraqi High Tribunal was "undermined from the outset" by Iraqi government actions that threatened the court's independence and perceived impartiality.

Its standing was further undermined by fierce public criticism of the court and its judges by senior government officials which started as soon as the trial began. Its reputation also suffered when MPs denounced the presiding judge, Rizgar Amin, and demanded his resignation. The judge, who was a Kurd, resigned last January.


There were also violations of the defendants' right to confront witnesses, according to Human Rights Watch. And it denounced the tendency by the prosecution to engage in "trial by ambush" in which incriminating documents were not disclosed to the defence until the day that they were to be used in court.

The tortured voices of Saddam's victims

* Ahmed Hassan Mohammed, a survivor of Dujail, and among the few Iraqis willing to testify at Saddam's trial without anonymity:

"There were mass arrests. Women and men. Even if a child was a day old they used to tell his parents, 'Bring him with you'. They were martyrs I knew. I had a brother ... He was a student, middle school. He was born in 1965. They took him to interrogation. They electrocuted him; they tortured him by electric shock and they would beat him before my father, who was born 1905. They would ask him where your brothers are. And he had no idea. The mask they put on my face was falling because I was so little. They were torturing women in front of me. It's OK if they torture me or my brothers. But why do you take my mother and sisters?"

* An anonymous Kuwaiti man after Kuwait was liberated in 1991:

"The Iraqis said all those at prayer would be taken away - kidnapped - and 11 men stayed in the mosque and refused to go. So they brought them here, blindfolded them, made them stand with their backs to the wall and shot them in the face. I had two neighbours who the Iraqis thought were in the resistance. So they pushed them into drains, closed the grille, poured petrol on them and set them on fire. "

* Karwan Abdallah Tawfiq, Kurdish survivor of a chemical gas attack during Saddam's Anfal campaign. He testified at Saddam's genocide trial:

"I saw with my own eyes all those broken limbs. After two months I regained consciousness. I was disoriented. After that, I found myself with friends at the Imam Khomeini hospital at Isfahan in Iran. I used to feel as if I was drunk the whole time. I spent six months in the hospital, and I was unable to see. Even my children are scared to see my eyes when I remove the glasses."

* Dr Hussein Shahristani, former chief scientific adviser to Saddam's Iraqi Atomic Energy Organisation and a Shia Muslim. Arrested in December 1979, he was imprisoned and tortured in Abu Ghraib for 11 years before escaping in the first Gulf War after the Americans bombed the prison. He was touted as a possible post-Saddam prime minister.

"The torture techniques in Baghdad were routine and varied in severity. The electric shocks could be everywhere. But sometimes they would burn people on the genitals and go on burning until they were completely burnt off. They did the same with toes. They sometimes beat people with iron on the stomach and the chest. I saw one man and they had used an iron on his stomach. They used drills and made holes in bones, arms and legs. I saw an officer, Naqib Hamid; they dissolved his feet in acid. They would put sulphuric acid in a tub. They would take a man and start by dissolving his hands. The founder of the Dawa party, Abdul Saheb Khail, was totally dissolved."