The Saddam Verdict Victor’s Injustice?


THE DEATH SENTENCE passed on former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein is seen by many human rights and legal watchdog groups worldwide as a death sentence on due process. Not that anyone was surprised by the verdict; Hussein’s U.S. attorney Ramsey Clark had warned at a news conference in Amman, Jordan, two days before the sentencing that the verdict was bound to be a “politically expethent” one. Throughout the course of this trial, rights advocates and international bodies had cautioned that the trial was not being carried out with any nods to international legal and political protocols. Among the more vocal opponents of the proceedings were the United Nations, Amnesty International and ISNAD, a working group comprised of lawyers from around the world intent on bringing some sense of process and legality to what many consider a show trial meant to appease Iraq’s Shi’a majority and the occupying Coalition forces.

Clark himself was ejected from the court before the verdict was read and after he submitted a note to the judge calling the trial “a travesty.” It was certainly not the first time during the highly contested trial that Saddam and his legal team were either removed from court or walked out in protest over the shoddiness and illegality of the proceedings. And although the mayhem in Iraq after the verdict wasn’t as dramatic as Clark’s “up-in-fiames” prediction, there are strange whisperings afoot that this verdict is only the beginning of an even more serious breach of legal justice.

Consider that Hussein may be executed before the verdict is in on the ongoing Anfal trial. Is this something only nonlawyers find logically absurd? Granted, from the beginning, the real importance of this trial and of the defense team’s allegations that justice was perverted was to be found in the legal sphere. As far as mob justice is considered, not too many people would bat an eyelash if Saddam was executed by vigilante justice the day he was found hiding in a hole. But when news stories broke about executing defendants mid-trial, it appears that the corruptions of the legal and political process in Iraq are spiraling belligerently out of control.

Although it may be difficult for many to divorce the socalled moral ground of the trial (Saddam was a ruthless despot and must be punished) from the legal one (how and why are international law tribunals to be carried out), we have little choice in the matter unless we want political side-shows and Jacobean theatrics taking center stage on issues of human rights, due process and international justice. The populist abuse heaped upon high-profile liberal spokesmen like Clark and Curtis Doebbler – who are on Saddam’s defense team illustrates that such distinctions are not being made. The common denominator of the barnyard mentality insists that evil tyrants are not to be defended on legal grounds. It implies that preparing a legal defense for the former Iraqi dictator is synonymous with moral acceptance of his crimes, and garbled in the mouth of the mob as love and affection.

Apples and oranges to anyone with an iota of common sense or logic.

If it were simply a case of popular, uninformed opinion, it would be easy enough to dismiss. But when the engines of law and occupation dictate such thinking in word and deed, there is reason for concern. When such entities repeatedly obstruct the proceedings and the attempts at preparing a defense for Hussein, there is cause for outrage.

The entire process has been one of self-serving expedience and political grandstanding on the part of the current U.S. administration and more broadly, “the Coalition.” Just as previous U.S. dictates and meddling in the establishment of a “democratic” government in the troubled nation have done little to establish peace or stability, this latest “do as I say and not as I do” brand of imperial justice does not bode well either for Iraq or the international community.

I asked Clark in Amman on the eve of the verdict if there was a model court that Hussein should have been tried in. Was there an apt analogy in Nuremberg or the Hague? He pointed out that he had been an active proponent of just such a court since the late 1960s, though he admits that a perfect model has yet to be established. He was adamant, however, in light of the present legal and civil morass surrounding the Saddam trials, that such a legislative body was sorely needed.

In response to the verdict, Doebbler issued the following, unequivocal statement:

The verdict of guilty and the trial of former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein has failed the Iraqi people and failed the rule of law. It is an abuse of justice.

Politically it sends a clear message to the Iraqi people: if they want to defend themselves, they cannot look to law, they cannot look to the U.S. government, they cannot look to the occupation government the U.S. setup in Iraq . . . They must defend themselves using all necessary means by which national liberation movements are permitted to defend themselves.

The trial of the Iraqi President has been declared unfair by every independent expert who has reviewed it. It constitutes the worse form of “victors’ injustice.”

It pays to bear in mind that – in addition to the many reports issued by the defense team and others about blatant obstructions to preparing their case by the Coalition and their Iraqi representatives in the form of the Iraqi Special Tribunal (1ST) – the entire process was conducted in Baghdad’s Green Zone during a time of widespread instability and violence. Four defense lawyers have been killed by parties alleging ties to the present Iraqi government, and witnesses for both sides have reported bullying, threats and physical violence. At least one witness for the defense, according to Hussein’s legal team, has been murdered.

Conducting such a high-profile trial in the midst of such rampant violence and unrest, however, is simply the most glaring ofthe many illegalities and inconsistencies in this legal charade. In the U.S., many cases are moved outside the city or state where crimes were committed for security reasons and the choosing of an impartial jury. Why, then, a choice was not made to try the former Iraqi president on neutral ground remains a mystery. Unless you subscribe to the theory that this was never meant to be a real trial at all, but simply another trump card for Bush and Company during an election season. The evidence on hand points to few, if any, other alternatives.

English poet George Herbert said centuries ago that “War makes thieves and peace hangs them.” In the case ofthe trial of Saddam Hussein, it’s clear we are dealing with an extremely selective lynch mob, or what Doebbler referred to as “victors’ injustice.”


My personal observation, which is shared by a number of people who have been in Iraq since Hussein was toppled, is that the occupying Coalition has failed miserably in bringing peace and democracy to Iraq. In the immediate aftermath of the invasion, the majority of Iraqis were more than patient with what many saw as liberation from Hussein’s tyranny.

As the months and years drag on, it becomes clear that the U.S.-led Coalition has dropped the ball, if not completely misplaced it. Anger and dissatisfaction grew alongside the careless policies and rising death toll. In the euphoric days after the faU of Saddam, it was nearly impossible to find a selfproclaimed, pro-Saddam Ba’athist. If you supported Saddam in those days, you kept it to yourself. Compare that to the rise in “man-on-the-street” reports throughout Iraq since then that evidence a growing nostalgia for the peace and security ofthe pre-war days. The inability ofthe occupiers to improve day-to-day living conditions and restore necessities such as electricity and water, the bold-faced manipulations of repeated elections that clearly excluded parties and platforms unfriendly to the U.S., and the brutal assaults on “insurgent” strongholds such as Falluja have done far more than destabilize an already shaky situation. It has bred numerous factions and counter insurgencies and given even the most apolitical Iraqis a very sour taste of American flavored “democracy.”

Although mounting pressure from the world community, including a recent statement by Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, has cautioned against executing Saddam in the interests of preserving a fragile peace in the splintering country, it is safe to predict that the powers in charge of Iraq these days will once again fail to heed warnings. If the U.S.-led Coalition and their Iraqi frontmen insist on running the show with a free hand and in defiance of international opinion, the question arises as to why bother constructing a flimsy semblance of due process in these trials at all? Why allow a defense team if they then insist on fettering and obstructing all attempts to defend the former dictator? Could it be that their overweening arrogance is matched only by the deadliest and most entrenched callowness?

Whatever the reason, it will once again be the Iraqi people and the thousands of benighted foreign troops who will pay the price.

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    A piece previously published in the print issue of Islamica Magazine between 2003-2009. The following has been an effort to digitize and archive as a free service. Author citations can be found at as we continue to work on improving the digital archives here.

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