Saddam Hussein on Trial
The Iraqi Special Tribunal that is to judge Saddam Hussein on Wednesday 19 October somewhere in Baghdad was created by decree of Paul Bremer, the former proconsul in Iraq, on December 10, 2003. The Iraqi selected to put together the IST —to recruit its staff, bailiffs, judges and magistrates at the expense of the American taxpayer— was a fellow by the name of Salem Chalabi. He is the nephew of Ahmed Chalabi, the businessman sentenced in abstentia to 18 years in prison for fraudulent bankruptcy who today is Iraqi Vice-Premier. Salem Chalabi, a business attorney, is a fugitive at present after an arrest warrant was issued against him for suspected murder.
The IST venue, where an unknown number of international observers and 25 reporters selected at random to witness the initial hearing will be brought, has been kept secret until the last moment. The IST will sit, depending on the security situation, says a US spokesman, in a room in the Green Zone in downtown Baghdad or in a US military base near Baghdad International Airport where the former dictator has been held since his capture on December 13, 2003. The identity of the five judges who will determine the fate of the prisoner will remain secret for reasons of security. The same goes for the forty magistrates responsible for gathering evidence on the crimes against humanity for which the former President stands accused.
Also kept secret are the names of the US investigators of the Regime Crime Liaison Office, a branch of the FBI, which continues to assist the Iraqis in locating evidence although, as Noah Feldman, a former advisor to Paul Bremer, lamented, they neither read nor speak Arabic. As to the team of US investigators, Egyptian-American International Law professor Cherif Bassouni, one of the architects of the International Criminal Court at the Hague, says that confidentiality is necessary to dissimulate the stamp of the US on the trial proceedings.
Initially invited to Washington to participate in the design of the Iraqi Special Tribunal, 60 year-old Bassouni, who prizes his international reputation, withdrew from this absolutely incomprehensible mish-mash, according to a story by Jean-Pierre Krief and published by Arte on September 27th.
Michael Sharf, an American professor of International Law hired by the US Justice Department to train Iraqi magistrates, has described the judicial UFO that is the Iraqi Special Tribunal as a domestic internationalized court and has deplored the public relations stunt of parading Saddam Hussein in front of the television cameras before a judge on July 1, 2004—three days before the transfer of sovereignty to Iyad Allawi’s interim government.
The former Iraqi dictator was twice sent before the IST—on 13 June and 21 July 2005, but only selected images showing a weakened man, were released to the media. Raed Juhi, the 36 year-old judge who presided over the questioning has since beeb demoted to tribunal spokesman after Vice Premier Ahmed Chelabi, who controls the de-Ba’athification Committee put in place by the Americans, attacked him for his handling of the prosecution. Raed Juhi was the same judge who signed the arrest warrant for Salem Chelabi.
Prosecutable on a dozen charges relating to several mass murders, beginning with the massacre of thousands of Kurds in the 1980’s, then thousands of Shi’ites in the 1990’s, Saddam Hussein has to answer only one charge during the current trial: the 1982 execution and the disappearance of 143 Shi’ite civilians in the small town of Doujail, 60 km north of Baghdad.
The incident took place after an assassination attempt on his person. The convoy in which Saddam was traveling was machine-gunned as he rode through town. The next day, 9 July 1982, members of the powerful Republican Guard descended on Doujail and more than 600 people were arrested and tortured.
The survivors who have accepted to serve as witnesses may remain anonymous in the eyes of the public, said Judge Juhi. They will give their testimony behind an opaque glass screen unless Saddam’s lawyer obtains a postponement to a later date after the charges are read against his client.
Patrice Claude, Le Monde Special Correspondent to Baghdad.
LE MONDE | 18.10.05 |