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Death Sentence to Saddam Hussein

The trial of Saddam Hussein violated all the basic principles of international law. The Iraqi Special Tribunal lacked independence; its judges openly displayed their prejudices; they did not act on evidence before them; and the defence was not provided with documents and transcripts of the trial testimony needed to enable it to question witnesses as required by law.

with the Islamic revolution he was leading in Iran. The Dawa Party, a

Death Sentence

political organisation formed by shias in Iran, opposed the government of Saddam Hussein. The members of Dawa Party in Iraq, the party that the US installed in

to Saddam Hussein

The trial of Saddam Hussein violated all the basic principles of international law. The Iraqi Special Tribunal lacked independence; its judges openly displayed their prejudices; they did not act on evidence before them; and the defence was not provided with documents and transcripts of the trial testimony needed to enable it to question witnesses as

required by law.


he death sentence to Saddam Hussein was the culmination of a relentless process, set in motion by the US. The process was fraught with moral and legal turpitudes, violations and mala fides. And it has unleashed a Frankenstein monster, which is opportunistically and deceptively called terrorism.

International law has evolved over centuries. At this stage of its evolution one country does not charge the president of another country with crimes against humanity, arrest him, try him and punish him to death. The US action against Saddam Hussein is an act of war, which violates every canon of international law. This process of aggression was built up and perpetrated on two premises: (1) Iraq had weapons of mass destruction, which could be launched within 45 minutes notice; and (2) Iraq was in collusion with Al Qaida, which was held responsible for the attack on the World Trade Centre’s twin towers in New York City. The US congressional committees have investigated and found that both the allegations were totally unfounded. George W Bush and Tony Blair have themselves dropped these arguments. Now they say that they attacked Iraq to put paid to the dictatorship of Saddam and to usher in democracy there.

This alibi of democracy for the aggression on Iraq has been retrospectively forged to justify the war in the light of disasters that stare Bush and Blair in their faces. If this was the reason that motivated Bush and Blair, they would have attacked Saudi Arabia first. What are the credentials of America to cultivate democracy in the world? They carpet-bombed, napalmbombed and defoliated Vietnam with Agent Orange and killed three million Vietnamese to install and retain puppet regimes there. The Central Intelligence Agency of the US organised a military coup in 1973 in Chile to overthrow and kill Salvador Allende, the elected president. In Indonesia, America masterminded and executed a violent deposition of the popular Sukarno government and, which in its wake, led to the massacre of 5,00,000 communists, only to instate Suharto, a corrupt autocrat who misappropriated the wealth of Indonesia for personal aggrandisement. Instances of American assault on democracy are galore. America invaded Iraq and unseated Saddam for the reason that he came in the way of America’s hegemonic ambition in west Asia.

The Dujail Case

There is more than one set of charges against Saddam Hussein and separate trials are being conducted against him. In the first trial, which is complete, Saddam was accused of killing 148 people from Al Dujail village after an attempt to assassinate him there in 1982. This was when Iran and Iraq were locked in the second year of a major war that threatened the sovereignty of each country and killed about a million people. The automobile in which the president was riding was hit by gunfire. The assailants who made the attempt were seen fleeing towards Iran. The announcement of the assassination attempt on his life first came from Tehran. This was one of the episodes in the war.

Both Iran and Iraq had large segments of their population whose loyalty in the war was uncertain. Ayatollah Khomeini lived in exile in Iraq from 1964 to 1978. Many shias in Iraq identified strongly power after the occupation, were then considered a threat to his government and his war efforts. To secure Dujail and the surrounding areas and to protect the nation, persons suspected of participating in, or supporting, the assault on the president and the violence that followed, were arrested. Many more people were interrogated. The prosecutions were initiated by the late spring of 1984, nearly two years after the act occurred. During the interrogation of major offenders, 148 males had confessed to participation or providing support to the assassination attempt and related hostile acts in the Dujail area in July 1982.

There were no trials because the defendants admitted guilt. The offence charged was treason – taking up arms against one’s own country in time of war and supporting its violent overthrow. The death penalty was mandatory. The court had no discretion under the law. A prominent committee of Iraqi judges reviewed the death sentences and affirmed them. In the time of war the risk of summary executions for their deterrent effect is high. President Saddam Hussein, as required by Iraqi law, reviewed and approved the orders of execution. It is common for the law to require the highest official of a state to approve and sign death warrants. George Bush signed 152 such warrants as governor of Texas. His reviews took about 30 minutes for each case. He never granted clemency or pardon. Women, minors, retarded people and aliens were executed.

Violations of International Law

It is a truism that a fair trial requires an independent judiciary. Presumption of innocence and the right of self-defence are other indispensable conditions that a fair trial entails. However, Iraqi Special Tribunal (IST) is a creature of the 2003 US war against Iraq. It was conceived of and constituted by the US during the illegal occupation of Iraq. The US lawyers wrote the statutes creating the IST. The IST is financed by the US. Its personnel were selected, trained and are protected by the US military. The US directly influences

Economic and Political Weekly December 30, 2006 the conduct of the IST. Three of the chief judges of its trial chamber have been removed at critical points in the trial by overt external political pressure because the judges’ conduct in court displeased the ruling establishment. Four defence attorneys have been kidnapped, tortured and executed. Court personnel and their families have been killed.

The judges of the IST are not impartial. They are avowed enemies of Saddam Hussein who claim to be victims of acts by his administration. The chief judge in the Dujail case was born and raised in the Kurdish village of Halabja. He asserts his relatives and friends were among those killed in poison gas attacks in 1988. He was twice convicted and sentenced to death by Baathist courts for violence against the government of Iraq. It will not be surprising if he acts as an avenger and not a judge.

The defence had no opportunity to investigate, find documents (all seized by the US), or to locate witnesses because of the overwhelming violence in the country. The defence was given no transcript of the testimony and trial proceedings. The prosecution presented its case leisurely over a period of seven months. The defence was forced to begin immediately and, after five consecutive weeks of hearings, was cut off from presenting more important witnesses by the chief judge who said: “If you cannot prove your innocence with 34 witnesses, 100 will not help”. The chief judge frequently expressed his hatred for the defendants, saying at the trial that for Saddam Hussein “a trial is not necessary, just a hanging”, and during the trial, of every defendant, “they all have had blood on their hands since childhood”.

The trial of Saddam Hussein violated all the basic principles of international law. The IST lacked independence; its judges openly displayed their prejudices; they did not act on evidence before them; and the defence was not provided with documents and transcripts of the trial testimony needed to enable it to question witnesses as required by law. The trial was a continuation of an illegal war waged against Iraq. A trial can never be fair and just without strict compliance with the principles of the rule of law.

Selective Justice

The second charge for which Saddam is on trial now is that the Kurds were attacked with poison gas. This is a classic example of selective justice and much worse. There are 26 million Kurds, about half of whom live in Turkey. The rest are in Iraq, Iran, Syria and the former Soviet Union. The regions where they stay are contiguous. They have been fighting for independence for quite long. They fight an armed struggle against the Turkish state. Very often they took shelter in Iraq when Saddam was in power and Turkey used to threaten Iraq with military action. Obviously, the Kurds had comparatively more freedom in Iraq. Turkey sent division strength armed forces into northern Iraq in the mid-1990s, destroying villages and killing Kurds. Turkey is said to have massed 2,00,000 troops on the border with Iraq in April 2006, threatening to invade and attack Kurdish fighters. Turkey is an ally of US, so the US does not talk about the freedom of Kurds in Turkey and the crimes committed against them by the Turkish government. Crimes committed by friends are no crimes.

At the end of the first world war when the Ottoman empire in west Asia collapsed, the US president Woodrow Wilson promised to create a Kurdish state within two years. This promise, however, was soon forgotten, as western powers competed to control the region’s oil. Instead of granting freedom, the British planes gassed and bombed Kurdish villages in Iraq in order to enforce the borders, which the colonial rulers in London wanted. “I do not understand their squeamishness about the use of gas”, said Winston Churchill, Britain’s war secretary at the time. “I am strongly in favour of using poisoned gas against uncivilised tribes”. It is one of the ironies of history that the western powers today accuse Saddam of using poisoned gas against Kurds.

In the last 15 years or so, the US has invaded Iraq twice and bombed Iraq to the stone age. A committee of American and Iraqi public health experts estimate that some 7,00,000 Iraqis have died in the invasions of 2003. During the sanctions against Iraq, over 6,000 children died every month due to sanctions-related reasons. According to UNICEF, over half a million children died between 1991 and 2001. These deaths could be attributed to reasons like anaemia and cancer caused by uranium and lack of medicines due to sanctions. During the 1991 war the US and its allies dropped 88,500 tonnes of explosive, the equivalent of seven Hiroshima bombs. Many of them were laced with depleted uranium. Experts link the high incidence of leukaemia and cancer with this. This carnage has been immortalised by Madeleine Albright “60 minutes” interview in 1996, when she told Leslie Stahl that the US’ strategic interests could possibly justify such a price.

Probably the world has not moved forward much since the time of Alexander. A pirate captured by him was asked, “How dare you molest the sea?” He replied, “How dare you molest the whole world? Because I do it with just a little ship, I am called a thief. You, doing it with a great navy, are called an emperor”. So that is where we are. Saddam Hussein is a terrorist. George Bush is a liberator. Will the world accept this “logic” in the 21st century?



[The facts regarding the trial of Saddam Hussein have been taken from the brief sent by Ramsey Clark, the former US attorney general, to the Iraqi Special Tribunal.]

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Economic and Political Weekly December 30, 2006

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