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Iraq: Hussein's Al-Dujayl Trial Descends Into Chaos

  • Kathleen Ridolfo --> Saddam Hussein in court on 5 December (epa) The fourth and fifth sessions of the Al-Dujayl trial of Saddam Hussein and seven co-defendants from the former regime on 5-6 December resembled earlier sessions where Hussein, his co-defendants, and their lawyers sought to delay and disrupt the court proceedings by all possible means. Chief Judge Rizgar Muhammad Amin appeared unable to control the outbursts, giving Hussein and other defendants room to launch into rants on subjects unrelated to the case.

The courtroom antics left many observers questioning whether the tribunal could uphold standards of due process for the witnesses, prosecution, and the defense in such an atmosphere.

Legal Questions

The Special Tribunal operates under a mixture of international law (the Geneva Conventions and the Rome Statute) and Iraqi law. According to Human Rights Watch, while international criminal tribunals require that the accused be found guilty only if the charge is proven beyond reasonable doubt, the Iraqi Special Tribunal's rules of procedure state that an accused can be found guilty once the judges are "satisfied" of the validity of the charges against the defendant.

In order to prove crimes against humanity, it will be essential to establish that the crimes were part of the widespread and systematic policies of the Hussein regime. The testimony of some of the witnesses in sessions four and five appear to corroborate their claims. The testimonies have given personal accounts of torture, abuse, and killings at the hands of Hussein's intelligence services.

One female witness implied in her testimony that she had been raped by intelligence agents, and claimed she knew of other girls (she was a teenager when detained) who were raped while in custody. Other witnesses told of the collective punishment inflicted on the village -- orchards destroyed and homes razed.

While there appears to be no shortage of victims to testify at the Al-Dujayl trial, documentary evidence may be harder to come by. Iraqis ransacked the offices of intelligence agencies after the fall of the regime in 2003, many hoping to find information on relatives who had disappeared under Hussein's rule. As one witness has already testified, he and others "found the files" related to Al-Dujayl in an intelligence office in Baghdad's Mansur district in 2003.

Some documentary evidence -- though yet to be presented at trial -- has reportedly made its way to the tribunal, including a 1985 execution certificate issued by Hussein's Revolutionary Court that ordered 143 residents from Al-Dujayl executed.

Courtroom Antics

Hussein and his half-brother Barzan al-Tikriti continuously interrupted the witnesses' at times emotional testimony with outbursts that included denying witness claims, insulting the witnesses, or addressing the court as Hussein did, to ask for paper.

In all, five witnesses testified: Ahmad Hasan Muhammad and Jawad Abd al-Aziz on 5 December; and four witnesses only identified by the letters A, B, C, and D on 6 December. The testimonies were at times confusing, and in some instances appeared to jump from story to story, with witnesses mixing their own experiences, with stories recounted to them by others.

The testimonies were complicated by the court's decision to allow the defendants to question the witnesses, sometimes directly. Under Rule 68 of the tribunal's Rules of Procedure, "A chamber shall control the manner of questioning a witness to avoid any harassment or intimidation." Rule 77 states, "The accused may not directly question any witness except through the trial chamber."

On 5 December, Hussein and Barzan al-Tikriti used the rule to "question" -- in this case badger, witnesses Muhammad and Abd al-Aziz. Al-Tikriti slandered the witnesses on several occasions, calling one a liar.

The defendants also used their question time to launch into diatribes about the war, the U.S.-led occupation, and their claims that the court is illegitimate.

Saddam Against The World

In one such instance, Hussein stood to question Witness C, but instead began lecturing Judge Amin, calling Amin his colleague, and saying, "I don't want to embarrass you." Referring to the trial as a "theatrical play" directed by the United States, Hussein scolded Amin and spouted Arab nationalist rhetoric, telling the judge that he had not properly questioned the witnesses. "You earned your position as a judge," Hussein said. "Nobody appointed you. This is your duty."

Hussein continued, referring to himself in the third person: "The Americans want to execute Saddam Hussein. Saddam Hussein gave himself to the people when he was a high-school student [referring to when he joined the Ba'ath Party]. Saddam Hussein was sentenced to death three times. This is not the first time."

Hussein and al-Tikriti also challenged the testimonies of some of the defendants, claiming the defendants were too young to remember the details they gave in their testimonies. The defendants further claimed that witness testimonies were based on hearsay, and repeatedly asked witnesses to provide evidence of their claims, and to identify by name the persons who abused them.

A number of witnesses said they were blindfolded and did not see their abusers, while others could only identify their abusers by first names or by a nom-de-guerre, such as Abu so-and-so. But some witnesses did name the intelligence agents that allegedly abused them.
The Tragedy At Al-Dujayl

A protester in Baghdad carries a picture of a relative killed at Al-Dujayl (AFP file photo)


Former Iraqi dictator SADDAM HUSSEIN and seven of his associates went on trial on October 19, 2005, on charges of crimes against humanity for the regime's role in the deaths of 148 residents from the town of Al-Dujayl, and the imprisonment of 1,500 others following a botched assassination attempt against Hussein there on July 8, 1982. Following the arrests and deportations, the regime leveled the town... (more)

See also:

Al-Dujayl Native Tells Her Story

Al-Dujayl Survivor Says 'We Want The Deserved Punishment For The Guilty