U.S. Officials Promise 'Iraqi-Led Process' for Saddam's Trial
By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Oct. 11, 2005 When former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein goes to trial Oct. 19 to face charges of crimes against humanity, he'll be tried by Iraqi judges in "a completely Iraqi-led process," State Department officials told reporters here today.
Two State Department experts, one currently serving a detail with the National Security Council and both with a year of legal experience in Iraq, spoke on background to reporters to paint a picture of what the proceedings will look like.
Saddam and seven other defendants will stand trial for a July 8, 1982, massacre in Dujail, Iraq, following a failed assassination attempt against the former Iraqi ruler. Iraqi security forces, acting on Saddam's orders, allegedly massacred an estimated 150 villagers.
Other defendants are Barzan Ebraheem al-Hassan, Taha Yasin Ramadhan, Awad Hamed al-Bander, Abd Allah Kadhem Ruaid, Ali Daeem Ali, Mohammed Azawi Ali and Mizher Abdulah Rawed, the Iraqi Special Tribunal confirmed on its Web site.
While not the most egregious of atrocities the former dictator has been accused of, the Dujail incident represents the most straightforward case and as a result, the first one ready to take to trial, the officials said.
Rather than waiting for investigations on nearly a dozen other cases to conclude, the Iraqis opted to move forward with the Dujail trial, the officials said.
During the upcoming trial, Saddam and the other defendants will sit together in the courtroom, possibly behind bulletproof glass, to face a panel of three judges that will decide their cases, the State Department officials explained.
It remains unclear if the trial will be televised, or if translation services would be offered for the proceedings, which will be conducted in Arabic, the officials said.
The proceedings will be conducted under a civil law system, which is significantly different from trials in the United States, the officials explained. Rather than having a prosecutor and defense attorney present their cases to a jury that has no previous knowledge of the case, the lead judge already will be armed with findings of the investigative tribunal that referred the case, the State Department officials said.
Each defendant will have at least one defense counsel. Saddam announced to the Iraqi Special tribunal last August that he had fired all of his defense team except for his principal defense attorney, Khalil Dulaimi.
When questioned in August by Chief Investigative Judge Raid Juhi of the Iraqi Special Tribunal if he wanted any international lawyers, counselors or advisers to assist Khalil in his defense, Saddam said that only Khalil could speak as his attorney and that if other lawyers or advisers were needed, Khalil would request them.
The judges will call and question witnesses to determine guilt or innocence, with no jury involved.
And unlike in U.S. courts, where a defendant can invoke the right to remain silent, under civil law, this may be taken as a sign of guilt in Iraq.
If found guilty, a judgment that could land him a death penalty, Saddam will have the right to an appellate system, and no sentence will be carried out until all appeals are exhausted, the officials said. By law, whatever punishment is ordered must be carried out within 30 days after the judgment becomes final.
State Department officials expressed confidence today in the Iraqi system, calling Iraq's judges "among the best in the world," highly trained and well-versed in Iraqi law.
In preparation for the upcoming trials, the judges and attorneys received extensive training in international criminal law from government, nongovernmental organizations, and academic and other legal experts from around the world, including the United States, the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, Italy and other nations. Mock-trial training was conducted in the United Kingdom, the officials said.
Defense teams are expected to provide "a robust defense" for all defendants during the trial, the State Department officials said.
Meanwhile, Iraqi investigators are continuing to pursue other allegations against Saddam and his disciples. Among them are the 1988 Anfal Campaign against the Kurds, including chemical attacks on the village of Halabja, the brutal crushing of a Shiite revolt in southern Iraq in 1991, and repression of the Faylee Kurds, officials said.
U.S. forces captured Saddam, who was hiding in a "spider hole" near his hometown of Tikrit, in December 2003. The Iraqi government maintains legal custody of the former dictator, although Multinational Force Iraq officials have physical custody of him at the Iraqi government's request, defense officials said.