03 October 2006

The People of Iraq v. Saddam Hussein

Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein was deposed in April of 2003 by the U.S. led invasion of his country, and was captured by U.S. forces on December 13, 2003.

His first appearance before an Iraqi court, about six months later, was on July 1, 2004. His first trial commenced October 19, 2005 and ended nine months later on July 27, 2006. Originally, the verdict was to be announced by the five judge panel, which will decided by majority vote, on October 16, 2006. Now, this has been postponed until the end of the month, after five months of deliberation.

Saddam and seven co-defendants face possible execution by hanging if found guilty on charges of crimes against humanity over a crackdown on Shiites in the town of Dujail launched in 1982. . . . .

The crackdown was sparked by a 1982 assassination attempt on Saddam.

Hundreds of Dujail residents were arrested, some tortured to death, and 148 Shiites were sentenced to death for involvement in the attempt to kill Saddam. The prosecution argued they were executed after a fake trial and that the crackdown aimed to punish the entire town.

The key evidence against Saddam was a series of documents signed by him - the order for the 148 to be put on trial, the approval of their death sentences and an approval of rewards for several intelligence officers.

The verdict would be followed by a right to appeal, presumably, to Iraq's highest court. In most countries with similar legal systems, the appeal would generally include a right to appeal both points of evidence and points of law. An execution would be scheduled within 30 days of a final ruling on the appeal, if one was ordered.

There is also a second war crimes trial pending:

A second trial of the former Iraqi leader and six other co-defendants began Aug. 21 on genocide charges for their alleged roles in a 1987-1988 crackdown against Kurdish rebels.

Proceedings in the second case are ongoing and have been tumultuous. Even if a death sentence is issued in the first case, it may be stayed pending the completion of the second case.

There is no doubt that Saddam Hussein ordered hundreds of executions during his regime in response to a 1982 assassination attempt, and that he also ordered harsh military action to crack down on an insurgency in his own country, the actions for which he is now on trial.

Morally, the important question is whether he in 1982 he really believed that all of those people had conspired to kill him, or instead, actually knew that he was inflicting collective punishment on innocent people. Furthermore, was beyond his authority to do so, even if he did, believing perhaps, that it was essentially to the long term security of the state, even though it was unfair to individuals, in much the same way that it is unfair that a draftee in an Army dies when ordered to go into a dangerous battle.

In the crackdown on the Kurds, the question was what military tactics are legally acceptable to put down an insurgency.

President Bush has vehemently worked to keep the United States out of an international treaty which would authorize, and to prohibit under U.S. law, any similar war crimes tribunal similar to the ones now deliberating the fate of Saddam Hussein, against him or anyone associated with his administration. The final piece of this came together with the legislation limiting enforcement of the Geneva Conventions passed by the House and Senate with the votes of all of Colorado's Republicans in Congress, as well as John Salazar and Ken Salazar, last week.

President Bush believes, apparently, that international law and human rights standards are for other people.

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