Furor Over Saddam’s Execution Continues Unabated

BAGHDAD – Expressions of outrage over the conduct of the trial and the manner of Saddam Hussein’s rushed, chaotic execution are continuing unabated here as lawyers and human rights groups voice their criticism – although some are still cautiously asking the media to withhold their names from publication.

Iraqi and international legal experts appear in agreement that the special court that sentenced the former Iraqi leader to the gallows was illegally set up and failed to meet international recognized standards.

They recalled that former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan said on Sept. 16, 2004, that the invasion and occupation of Iraq violated the UN Charter. This made the setting-up of the so-called Iraqi High Tribunal to try Saddam illegal.

Two others sentenced to death, Barzan Ibrahim al-Tikriti, Saddam’s half brother and a former intelligence chief, and Awad Hamed al-Bandar, the former head of Iraq’s Revolutionary Court, were hanged early Monday. Barzan was decapitated – accidentally, authorities said.

The manner of the executions has added to the disquiet over the execution of Saddam and the trial that led to it.

Throughout the lengthy trial of Saddam, many voiced suspicions that the outcome was a foregone conclusion and had been scripted by politicians in Baghdad and Washington.

“The verdict was prejudged by the Bush administration and its Iraqi allies. The court was a disgusting comedy,” a senior member of the Iraqi Lawyers’ Union told IPS on condition of anonymity.

“The resignation of Rezgar Muhammad Amin, the first chief judge of Saddam’s Dujail trial, provoked serious questions among lawyers in Iraq and outside the country.

“It was clear that he resigned under pressure from the Iraqi government. They wanted him to take the case on another course that it was going.”

Amin gave personal reasons for resigning as chief judge on the Iraqi High Tribunal in January last year, three months into the Dujail trial.

The Dujail trail focused on an Iraqi government crackdown after a failed assassination attempt on Saddam in 1982. The action killed 148 Shi’ites.

A senior adviser at Iraq’s Ministry of Justice, also speaking on condition of anonymity, told IPS that Amin’s replacement, Judge Raouf, was under clear instructions from his assistant judges to deliver harsh verdicts against Saddam and the other co-defendants.

Criticism was also leveled at the atmosphere of deadly intimidation throughout the long trial, which started in October 2005.

A security colonel at the Ministry of Interior in Baghdad, also requesting not to be quoted by name, told IPS, “We wrote to the minister suggesting that by protecting the defense lawyers and witnesses we would be investing the court with integrity – but our superiors ignored us.

“The result was that three defense lawyers were assassinated and some defense subjected to torture.

“The case should have been halted until proper protection was provided for these people.”

He added, “I and many of my colleagues believe Saddam deserved the death sentence, but not one issued by a weak court that did not serve justice or show even the minimal credibility.”

The unconvincing prosecution witnesses and the courtroom dramas and scandals were also raised by critics here.

“Some witnesses were 10 years old or less at the time of the incident,” Ahmed Saadoon, a lawyer from the city of Diwaniya, south of Baghdad, told IPS. “There were many contradictions in their statements.”

The aggressive prosecution tactics brought discredit to the court proceedings, he said. “The attorney general was so harassing. That made the trail look so biased,” he said.

International human rights groups have also voiced their criticisms, calling the trial by a special court illegal and in violation of international law.

The UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detentions has ruled that Saddam’s “deprivation of liberty” was “arbitrary.” Its decision was passed on to Saddam’s defense lawyers shortly before the final verdict and sentencing on Nov. 5, 2006.

The Working Group, made up of independent legal experts from Iran, Algeria, Paraguay, Spain, and Hungary, spent more than two years collecting information before announcing its findings.

It based its decision on its interpretation of international treaties, particularly the International Covenant of Civil and Political Rights. It found that Article 14 of the Covenant had been violated in numerous ways.

Following the outcry over Saddam’s hanging, Human Rights Watch issued a statement attacking Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s fierce defense of the execution.

This showed the Iraqi government’s “disregard for human rights and the rule of law,” Human Rights Watch said. The rights group called in vain on the Iraqi government to halt the upcoming execution of Barzan Ibrahim al-Tikriti and Awad Hamed al-Bandar.

The two were sentenced to death with Saddam in the Dujail trial.

Human Rights Watch also criticized the Dujail trial as “fundamentally unfair” and Saddam’s death sentence as “indefensible.”

The Iraqi government now faces the prospect of being taken to the International Court of Justice at The Hague over the manner of Saddam’s execution and allegations that his body was defiled after being cut down from the gallows.

Bushra al-Khalil, a lawyer on Saddam Hussein’s defense team, told reporters here that she was planning to sue the government over the taunting of the former leader by his executioners on the gallows. This was captured on video by a mobile phone and generated worldwide outrage when it was broadcast on TV stations and over the Internet across the world.

Khalil also said she would also file a second action over allegations that executioners had violated Saddam’s body after he was hanged, according to the Saudi daily al-Watan.