Copyrighted material


by Sanjay Suri

on Saddam Execution

(IPS) -- Saddam Hussein was convicted and hanged without fair trial, leading human rights groups said after his execution Saturday.

"Amnesty International believes the whole process was deeply flawed," James Dyson from Amnesty told IPS. The Iraqi Appeals Court failed to address the major flaws during the former dictator's trial before the Supreme Iraqi Criminal Tribunal (SICT), Amnesty said in a statement Saturday.

Human Rights Watch had issued a 97-page report last month detailing numerous flaws in the trial of Saddam.

"The Iraqi high tribunal was not independent of political pressure coming from the Iraqi cabinet," Richard Dicker from Human Rights Watch told IPS Saturday. "In January this year the judge in Saddam's trial resigned in protest because he was publicly criticized by the prime minister for being too lenient in the way he was conducting proceedings."

That kind of political interference, he said, is "wholly inappropriate to the judicial process."

What Saddam had faced, he said, was "trial by ambush" that was marked by the failure of prosecution to provide defense attorneys evidence that was being introduced in court. Sometimes the evidence to be presented was given to defense lawyers at the last minute, and sometimes not at all, he said. That denied "an effective and meaningful defense."

The Human Rights Watch report, 'Judging Dujail: The First Trial Before the Iraqi High Tribunal' was based on 10 months of observation and dozens of interviews with judges, prosecutors and defense lawyers.

According to the human rights group, the report found, among other defects, "violations of the defendants' right to question prosecution witnesses, and the presiding judge's demonstrations of bias."

Saddam's defense lawyers had 30 days to file an appeal from the Nov. 5 verdict pronouncing the death sentence. "However, the trial judgment was only made available to them on November 22, leaving just two weeks to respond." The appeals chamber announced its confirmation of the verdict and the death sentence Dec. 26.

"It defies imagination that the appeals chamber could have thoroughly reviewed the 300-page judgment and the defense's written arguments in less than three weeks' time," said Dicker in a statement put out by Human Rights Watch. "The appeals process appears even more flawed than the trial."

Both Amnesty and Human Rights Watch had over many years documented human rights abuses under the regime of Saddam Hussein -- at a time when Western governments paid little heed to those reports, let alone act on them.

"These crimes include the killing of more than 100,000 Iraqi Kurds in Northern Iraq as part of the 1998 Anfal campaign," Human Rights Watch said in its statement. The execution of Saddam Hussein means the truth in that case might now never be known.

"At the time of his hanging, Saddam Hussein and others were on trial for genocide for the 1988 Anfal campaign," Human Rights Watch said. "The victims, including women, children and the elderly, were selected because they were Kurds who remained on their traditional lands in zones outside of areas controlled by Baghdad. Hussein's execution will therefore jeopardize the trial of these most serious crimes."

Amnesty and Human Rights Watch both oppose use of the death penalty on principle, and the groups say handing the death sentence has been compounded by an unfair trial in the first place.

"We oppose the death penalty in all cases as a violation of the right to life and the ultimate cruel, inhuman and degrading punishment, but it is especially abhorrent when this most extreme penalty is imposed after an unfair trial," Malcolm Smart, director of Amnesty International's Middle East and North Africa Program said in a statement.

"It is even more worrying that in this case, the execution appeared a foregone conclusion, once the original verdict was pronounced, with the appeals court providing little more than a veneer of legitimacy for what was, in fact, a fundamentally flawed process."

The trial "will be seen by many as nothing more than 'victor's justice' and, sadly, will do nothing to stem the unrelenting tide of political killings," Smart said.

Saddam Hussein was sentenced to death on Nov. 5 this year after being convicted in connection with the killing of 148 people from al-Dujail village north of Baghdad after an attempt to assassinate him there in 1982.

The trial, which began in October 2005 almost two years after Saddam Hussein was captured by U.S. forces, ended in July this year.

"Every accused has a right to a fair trial, whatever the magnitude of the charge against them," said Smart. "This plain fact was routinely ignored through the decades of Saddam Hussein's tyranny. His overthrow opened the opportunity to restore this basic right and, at the same time, to ensure, fairly, accountability for the crimes of the past. It is an opportunity missed, and made worse by the imposition of the death penalty."

"The test of a government's commitment to human rights is measured by the way it treats its worst offenders," said Dicker. "History will judge these actions harshly."

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Albion Monitor   December 30, 2006   (

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