Wednesday, December 07, 2005


Saddam Trial

The Theater

This is one trial where everybody knows the verdict! So, the process itself is what becomes of interest to most people.

I never liked theatricals. I followed the fiasco of the first and second hearings. They gave a very poor impression of the court and the judge. They both lacked what one would have liked to see in terms of dignity, class and firm fairness. However, content-wise things began to improve with the third sitting. There was more concrete business to conduct.

The prosecution’s performance was visibly shabby and professionally sub-standard. We had repeatedly heard and read about 12 tons of documents, large teams of investigators collecting evidence and preparing the case over months of hard work. But to see the end result of all that huge effort (and no doubt, huge sums spent) was more than disappointing. To see them take what should be a water-tight case and make a mess of it makes me wonder what will happen when other, more controversial issues are examined.

The defense’s performance also appeared to be clumsy. Perhaps they intentionally gave the floor to the defendants to cross-examine witnesses. They also managed to effectively score a number of legal points concerning the legitimacy of the court itself. The court’s defense of itself and its own legitimacy was rather weak. That brought home the question of legitimacy of political and legal proceedings while the country was still under occupation.

But I began to have more respect for the judge’s tolerance and handling of transactions within the court, though he still lacked the required authority and firmness to control proceedings. The atmosphere nevertheless looked more like a tribal arbitration sitting than a formal court. That judge would make a good tribal sheikh.

Some people didn’t like that. I felt it gave the whole thing an ‘Iraqi’ flavor! And why not? People like theatricals and show business stuff! The fact that what should be a grave and somber occasion, a trial of an episode of history, was turned into a circus must be of secondary importance. People must be entertained.

Then and now

I followed the first prosecution witness closely. He talked a lot, but little of what he said was new to me. I must have heard similar first hand accounts dozens – no, hundreds – of times in the past two decades. That witness’s account was not out of the ordinary.

I also happened to pass close by the town of Dujail on numerous occasions in that critical period. I had purchased a few pieces of farm machinery from a government establishment in that region. Some of them had to be repaired locally before being transported. I can say that I was witness to the bulldozing of those lovely date palm tree orchards. I still clearly remember thinking that that was exactly what Israel was doing in Palestine. We also heard many stories. Later, even the name of the district itself was changed to al Fariss – the Knight (obviously a reference to Saddam)!

But what I kept thinking about throughout the narrative was that those horrible things that witness was recounting (which I do not doubt for a minute) have also been taking place in Iraq since the invasion. Similar, and sometimes worse, atrocities are taking place and up to this minute.

It is better to prevent than to punish later, much later. We can do little now about Saddam’s atrocities. They are indeed history that left behind the suffering of people affected by them. Let Saddam get whatever he deserves. He is certainly getting a better deal than he gave any of his opponents. But isn’t there something that we can do about atrocities being committed now?

Will those atrocities be brought to justice, ever?

Perhaps in another 20 years… when they have become mostly forgotten history to most people except, of course, those who had to endure their trauma.

Public Platform

Right from the start, the judge allowed a few political points to be scored wittingly and unwittingly! For example, during the first hearing, one of the defendants - the judge who passed the death sentence on some 148 people for their attempt on Saddam’s life - was asked for his identity by the judge. The man replied that at that moment he had no identity because his igal (head band) was removed from his head before going into the court. The good, but simple, Kurdish judge ordered his igal to be brought to him. There was a delay of a few moments while that was done.

This little episode may have looked innocent enough. It wasn’t! With that little ploy, that man scored a very important point with millions of viewers in Iraq and elsewhere. The significance of the igal as a sign of pride and dignity to millions of people from a certain cultural background cannot be overestimated! I have already written that knocking someone’s igal, or even insulting it, may carry the penalty equivalent to murder in Iraqi tribal code. This may sound incredible to some people, but it is nevertheless true. Very few people remembered that that man never wore an igal when he was in office!

A few days later, I mentioned that incident to a friend, a man who was raised in Baghdad and who has spent three decades abroad. He failed to see any significance in the event. The judge acted decently and compassionately, he said; the man wanted his igal, the good judge gave him his igal; what was the harm in that? I can’t say I blame him for missing a point he was not even aware of. The thing is that the point was scored with people who knew the significance of the little incident. [Incidentally, that same friend called a fortnight later to express his displeasure with the judge’s performance!]

Saddam was always a man of cameras and TV. He thrives under the lights. He himself also scored a few points. On the face of it, he was talking to the judge; but really he was addressing people outside the courtroom. He was given a platform to address many millions and he made the best of it.

Sectarianism again?

Another significant point brought out in those proceedings is the ever-present sectarian issue. Dujail lies in what has become known as the ‘Sunni Triangle’. But I knew that Dujail was a mixed town. However, in almost all news broadcasts in almost all channels, pro- and anti-war, the city was described as ‘Shiite’. That infuriated me!

During his account, that first witness mentioned name after name of people who were ‘detained’ tortured or executed and they were thoroughly mixed Sunnis and Shiites. He did not utter a single word about the Sunni-Shiite issue. Later on, it was also evident that that witness, although obviously a devout Shiite, was himself mixed. His mother who was imprisoned was a Sunni, originally from Fallujah. When the witness mentioned the help given by decent man from Ramadi during the ordeal, Saddam sarcastically remarked “A Sunni?” The man snapped back something like “Sunnis are my maternal uncles… and that honors me!”

Yet, the media keeps insisting about circulating the sectarian issue. Take this excerpt from Associated Press, written by someone with an Iraqi name:

“The Tuesday hearing began after a dramatic, often chaotic day Monday when for the first time, Shiite victims of a 1982 crackdown confronted the former leader and his lieutenants. They are on trial for the killing of more than 140 Shiites in the town of Dujail north of Baghdad and could be executed by hanging if convicted.

“Despite the sometimes free-for-all atmosphere Monday, the trial's first witnesses offered chilling accounts of killings and torture using electric shocks and a grinder during a 1982 crackdown against Shiites.”

This is not just clumsy reporting. It is factually wrong. Why is this insistence? I cannot help feeling that it is intentional.


Hello Abu Khaleel,
Are group trials of defendents normal in Iraq? This is something I don't understand. It seems like a big mistake to have this crazy psychodrama. Saddam is guilty of many, many things--let him be tried for his crimes, he has nothing positive to contribute to this world. Are they symbolically and stupidly putting the entire Baath Party on trial?
Is this bad group therapy for the Iraqi nation or a judicial process or a TV sitcom? This trial should put an end to Saddam and his top cronies (ahead of TV ratings) so the rest of the country can move quickly into the future.

Crikey, Abu, can’t you Eye-Rakis do anything right? What’s the use of having a show trial where the main accused is allowed to stay in bed if he feels like it?
I’m starting to wonder about this "Cradle of Civilisation" business. Seems to me the baby might have fallen out and cracked his head pretty early on - would explain why we’re all still having trouble being civilised now.
Also, you’re embarrassing your nice American guests. Again.
As I understand it, Saddam isn’t accused of personally participating in any tortures or executions of these villagers - just presumably of ordering or authorising them.
Good grief, man, don’t you realise that the same accusation could be levelled against Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld and all with regard to the excesses of their Waterboard Warriors? After all, little Cindy has laid it on the line for the Europeans: "we don’t do torture, except when it is necessary in the War on Terror." From Saddam’s point of view, people trying to assassinate him were definitely "terrorists" too. Where’s the difference?
I’m afraid Cindy’s troubles, coming at the same time as the trial, is causing me a slight crisis of faith. I try to be a devout unbeliever, but the way the US keeps getting embarrassed every week makes me wonder whether there isn’t a bit of divine intervention going on: has Someone Up There got it in for the Bushies?
Leads to the terrifying thought, what if God is actually a Li-ber-ul?
What’s that barfing noise? Oh, it’s only MadTom, regurgitating his breakfast at the very idea.

The Iraqis have the right to try Saddam and his friends regardless of however many crimes Bush has done. There is no need for confabulating US war guilt with Saddam's thirty five year record. There is a great need for speedy justice and no need for any more speeches by Saddam Hussein. When his guilt is made plain, the Iraqi people can move beyond this source of division. Don't worry. Bush will still be a war criminal.

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

Love the blog. Very informative. Keep it up. I'll be back. Oh and BTW, you can read what a nutty Californian thinks of all this at my blog,

“Hello” Anonymous,

I’m afraid group trials are normal in Iraqi judicial system. Also, trial by jury is unknown, although it is the norm in tribal arbitrations.


You may be right. I never claimed otherwise. That baby always had violent inclinations, but there was nothing wrong with its mental faculties when it left these quarters and headed your way. What have you done to it?


Hold your horses a bit, will you please?


Thank you… and thank you for the link. I hope you have read my piece about Ungrateful Californians.

He's now resting in peace.
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