Hussein Faces Tribunal Today In First Trial for Actions in Iraq

By Jackie Spinner
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, October 19, 2005

SULAYMANIYAH, Iraq, Oct. 18 -- Almost two years after U.S. forces captured a disheveled Saddam Hussein hiding in a hole in the ground on a farm near his home town of Tikrit, the former Iraqi president will appear Wednesday before a five-member panel of his countrymen in the first criminal case brought against him and seven Baath Party associates.

Iraqis blame Hussein for the deaths and torture of hundreds of thousands of citizens during nearly three decades in power. But he will face charges concerning a single incident, the execution of 143 men and boys from the predominantly Shiite Muslim town of Dujail, 35 miles north of the capital.

Prosecutors allege that Hussein ordered the killings as retaliation after gunmen fired on his motorcade in the town on July 8, 1982, in an attempt to assassinate him.

In addition to the executions, which occurred three years later at Abu Ghraib prison, more than 1,500 townspeople were arrested, prosecutors allege. Many were banished to desert prisons where families were crowded together in windowless cells for years. Bulldozers plowed over the fertile groves of orange and date palm trees that provided the primary livelihood for Dujail's residents.

Unlike Balkan leaders who have faced war crimes charges in a U.N. court in The Hague, Hussein will appear before the Iraqi Special Tribunal, a body established in December 2003 by U.S.-led occupation authorities. It will use a mixture of international law and Iraqi criminal law in conducting the trial.

The transitional Iraqi parliament, elected in January, has put its stamp on the court process. It approved minor revisions to the law that created the tribunal, but those changes will not go into effect until they are published in an official paper of record.

In a rare telephone interview on Tuesday, Hussein's sole attorney, Khalil Dulaimi, said his client would not get a "fair or honest trial at all." He questioned the legitimacy of the court.

Dulaimi said he was informed of the trial's start date only on Sept. 25. "I need at least three more months to be prepared for the trial," he said. Speeding up the trial was intended "to confuse the defense and deprive it from full preparations," he added.

"Psychologically, I am prepared and will go with full confidence," he said. But "it will be a show trial only."

In a report issued two days ago, Human Rights Watch raised concerns that the tribunal was not being impartial and independent. The report noted that the U.S. government had spent $128 million on investigations and prosecutions of members of Hussein's government.

The first trials before the tribunal will be "a litmus test for whether it is up to the task of delivering justice," the report stated. "Fair trials are not only the entitlement of defendants. They are also a prerequisite for acknowledging the experiences of hundreds of thousands of victims of the former regime in an open, transparent and publicly accessible way," it said.

Jaafar Mousawi, the tribunal's chief prosecutor in Hussein's trial, said the lawyers and judges intend to reply on Wednesday to accusations that the tribunal does not have proper jurisdiction because it was formed by the U.S. occupation authority.

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