BAGHDAD -- When the disgraced but unrepentant old man sat down in front of Raid Juhi last summer, the young judge did not know what to expect. Like most Iraqis, he knew Iraq's former leader only from television, where he always appeared a brave, confident and much-feared hero.
Now, Saddam Hussein was making his first appearance as a defendant before the Iraqi special tribunal that will judge officials of Iraq's toppled government for crimes against humanity. Petulant and defiant, the haggard leader claimed immunity from any prosecution, ranted on about the court's illegality and refused to sign an acknowledgment that he had been read his rights.
Judge Raid Juhi presided over the first hearing in the Hussein case.
(Caryle M. Murphy--The Washington Post)
Iraq War Deaths|
Total number of U.S. military deaths and names of the U.S. troops killed in the Iraq war as announced by the Pentagon yesterday: 1,514 Fatalities
In hostile actions: 1,158
In non-hostile actions: 356
Spec. Jonathan A. Hughes, 21, of Lebanon, Ky.; Army National Guard 1st Battalion, 623rd Field Artillery Regiment, based in Campbellsville, Ky. Killed March 19.
Total fatalities include four civilian employees of the Defense Department.
A full list of casualties is available online at www.washingtonpost.com/nation
SOURCE: Defense Department's www.defenselink.mil/newsThe Washington Post
Juhi, who let Hussein vent before cutting him off, recalled feeling two strong forces during that 26-minute session. One was wonder at how the tables had turned. The other was duty.
"I had worked as a judge under Saddam. I never thought I would be in a position questioning him," Juhi, 34, said in a recent interview. "At the same time, our studies and careers taught us how to be objective in our work and to not consider names or ranks but to look at the evidence only. We have a saying in the judiciary system: The evidence talks."
Juhi is the only tribunal judge publicly identified so far. The others remain anonymous because of threats from insurgents, many of whom supported Hussein's government. Though the former leader's trial is not imminent -- Juhi said there is no way to know how long pretrial investigations will take -- one judge on the tribunal has already been assassinated.
"It's not bravery," the Baghdad-born judge said of his decision to allow his name to be made public. "It is important for the Iraqis to know that Iraqis are handling the case and that the judicial system is taking up its role."
Like many young Iraqis in this blighted capital, Juhi is optimistic and idealistic in his hopes for his country's future, a radiant counterpoint to Iraq's immense postwar miseries: environmental devastation, a pitiless insurgency, grinding poverty, chaotic traffic and haggling politicians. It is still far from certain that Iraq is going to fulfill such hopes. But in these trying days of nation rebuilding, hope is an essential ingredient.
Normally closely guarded for his own protection, Juhi showed up unaccompanied for a conversation with a reporter. He wore a brown suit and tie. Relaxed and affable, he smiled often and answered questions through an interpreter with the logic and balance expected of a judge.
Calling the tribunal "a milestone of legal democracy," Juhi said he believed its work would help establish a law-abiding society in Iraq because it is "imposing justice on people who at one time thought themselves above the law. Also, for the first time in the Arab homeland, a president and a whole regime are being legally pursued and interrogated and might be tried for crimes they are suspected of committing."
Out of this process, he said, will come "two messages." One is for "the rulers here and in other countries to not forget. . . . The presidency and the responsibilities given to them are duties given by the community." The second message is to remind ordinary people "that any person, no matter how powerful he or she is, they should abide by the law," he said.
Juhi followed a typical career path to the judiciary under the former government. He graduated from Baghdad University Law School, served in the military, worked as an investigator in the Justice Ministry and then completed a two-year course at Iraq's Judicial Institute that qualified him to be a judge.
Like other judges in Hussein's era, he was a registered member of the ruling Baath Party. To get into the Judiciary Institute, he noted, you needed "to be recommended by the Baath offices in the neighborhood you lived in."
But registering as a party member and being an activist were not the same, Juhi said, adding that many Iraqis became nominal members to avoid the scrutiny and persecution that could make life what he called "a big hell."
Juhi was working in Iraq's Central Criminal Court in Baghdad when he was asked to join the tribunal, in April 2004. "I was honored to be asked," he said. "I immediately agreed."