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Iraq: Hussein Trial Postponed After New Chief Judge Appointed

  • Jeffrey Donovan --> Judge Rizgar Muhammad Amin (file photo) (epa) The trial of deposed Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein, due to resume today, has been postponed until 29 January. A court spokesman said the postponement was because some witnesses are still abroad. The announcement, however, comes amid controversy over the last-minute appointment of a new presiding judge to replace Rizgar Muhammad Amin.

PRAGUE, 24 January 2006 (RFE/RL) -- Amin resigned earlier this month after being criticized for being too soft and allowing Saddam Hussein and his fellow defendants to engage in lengthy courtroom tirades.

On 23 January, Ra'uf Rashid Abd al-Rahman, who like Amin is a Kurd, was named as the new interim presiding judge.

Hussein and seven co-defendants are on trial over the massacre of Shi'a from the town of Al-Dujayl after the ousted Iraqi leader survived an assassination attempt there in 1982.

A Fair Trial?

However, the courtroom changes are raising fresh questions about the fairness of the trial. It has already been marked by delays, assassinations of defense lawyers, and outbursts by Hussein, such as this one in December: "The White House lies. They lied again and they are liars. They are the world's No. 1 liars and they are known for it because they said Iraq had chemical weapons and had a connection with terrorism and then no one said they found any such thing in Iraq."

"Had people only known what the proceedings of ordinary trials in Iraq look like! Had they only seen and heard what happens inside courts! Swears and insults are exchanged between litigants, or sometimes addressed to the court." -- Amin

For allowing such tirades, critics in Iraq and abroad harshly criticized Amin.

During a visit to Baghdad in December, Arlen Specter, the chairman of the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee, accused Amin of letting Hussein "dominate" the trial and turn the proceedings into a forum for airing his grievances.

Iraq’s Supreme Criminal Court has said Amin resigned purely for personal reasons.

However, the London-based Arabic newspaper "Al-Sharq al-Awsat" today cited sources close to Amin as saying he resigned in protest over political pressure to be more strict in the courtroom.

In an interview with RFE/RL’s Iraqi Service earlier this month, Amin defended his work and said that no one should be surprised at the behavior of the defendants.

"Had people only known what the proceedings of ordinary trials in Iraq look like! Had they only seen and heard what happens inside courts! Swears and insults are exchanged between litigants, or sometimes addressed to the court," Amin said. "That is a result of escalated emotions and conflicts that are hanging between the litigants. From my point of view, this is something against the law. Swears are, of course, undesirable in people’s ordinary lives, let alone before court. It is natural, though, that they occur. As an experienced judge who has worked for a long time in the judiciary, I have been addressed with swears in court. I am really surprised that these issues have become so blown up and exaggerated [in the comments on Saddam Hussein trial]." [For the full interview with Amin, click here.]

After Amin submitted his resignation on 15 January, court officials had said he would be replaced by his deputy, Sa'id al-Hammashi, a Shi'a.

However, the government commission responsible for purging members of Hussein's Ba'ath Party complained last week that al-Hammashi was once a member of the party. The Associated Press cited court official Raid Juhi as saying that al-Hammashi was transferred off the case entirely -- though court officials insisted the move was not connected to the Ba'athist allegation.

The New Presiding Judge

Abd al-Rahman -- the man finally appointed chief judge -- was born in Halabjah, where Hussein's forces launched a poison-gas attack in 1988 that killed some 5,000 Kurds. Some of his relatives were among the dead, according to his family.

Although Hussein could eventually go on trial for the Halabjah deaths before a different court, critics say Abd al-Rahman’s background could compromise his impartiality.

Amin, for his part, rejected charges that the court is being influenced from the outside or that its judges might be less than neutral. "I personally reject any interference from anywhere," he said. "I have not noticed any direct interference. I am convinced that I have been conducting my work in neutrality and independence. This is what I can say for now."

The current trial began on 19 October and is set to hold its eighth session. Its focus is on the killings of some 140 Shi'a in a crackdown that followed a failed assassination bid in 1982 against Saddam in Al-Dujayl, some 100 kilometers north of Baghdad.

(with RFE/RL’s Iraqi and Afghan services, agency reports)

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