As Genocide Trial Begins, Hussein Is Again Defiant

By Amit R. Paley
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, August 22, 2006

BAGHDAD, Aug. 21 -- Saddam Hussein on Monday refused to enter a plea on charges of genocide and other crimes, as a court began hearing allegations that the former Iraqi leader tried to systematically annihilate the country's Kurdish population.

The 69-year-old former president slumped in his seat as prosecutors accused him of orchestrating the 1987-88 Anfal campaign against the Kurds, an operation that included the use of mustard gas and nerve agents to slaughter entire villages; concentration camps where women and children died after being stuffed 100 to a room; and mass graves dug so shallow that wild animals consumed the corpses. Prosecutors said the campaign claimed 182,000 victims.

In addition to the charges of genocide, Hussein faces charges of crimes against humanity and war crimes. The judge entered a plea of not guilty on his behalf.

Hussein faces other charges in a separate case involving the killings of 148 men and boys from the Shiite village of Dujail. But it is the charge of genocide in the Anfal case that has attracted the most rapt attention from Iraqis and international observers. Besides former Yugoslav leader Slobodan Milosevic, who died during his trial, Hussein is the only former head of state to be tried for genocide.

On Monday, prosecutors argued that Anfal, which in Arabic means "the spoils of war," meets the criteria for the charge because Hussein issued a memo ordering the execution, without trial, of all Kurds between the ages of 15 and 70 in their homeland in northern Iraq.

"The aim of all the memos and orders was to wipe out the Kurdish civilian population," said the chief prosecutor, Jaafar al-Mousawi. "All they were accused of was being part of the Kurdish nationality."

Hussein and his co-defendants in the trial -- six former top aides including Ali Hassan al-Majeed, known as "Chemical Ali" -- are expected to argue that they launched the eight-part military campaign because of Kurdish support for Iran, which had been warring against Iraq for most of the decade. The six co-defendants pleaded not guilty.iudushsdfksdj

Legal experts say Hussein and Majeed, the two defendants charged with genocide, could be acquitted of that charge -- though not the other crimes -- by showing that their campaign also killed many Sunnis and Shiites, or by arguing that the campaign's only goal was to take control of the oil-rich swaths of land where the Kurds live.

"We were in a war with Iran, which was driving into the country with the cooperation of the Kurds," said defendant Husayn Rashid Mohammad al-Tikriti, 66, the deputy of operations for the Iraqi armed forces under Hussein. "I was a soldier, and I took the oath of my country and defended my country as best I could."

If found guilty in either the Dujail case or the Anfal case, Hussein would face the death penalty, which means that the first tribunal could order his execution before the Anfal trial is completed. In that event, the charge against him would be dropped but the case against his co-defendants would continue, according to a U.S. official close to the court.

Legal experts say it is notoriously difficult to prove genocide, which is defined as the systematic elimination of a group of people because of their religion, race, ethnicity or nationality. In addition to showing that crimes against humanity took place, prosecutors must also prove that a significant factor in those crimes was the group identity of the victims.

"Genocide being the crime of all crimes, if he is convicted of it, then it proves that he is one of the worst of the worst that mankind has ever seen," said Michael P. Scharf, a professor at Case Western Reserve University School of Law and an adviser to the Iraqi Special Tribunal. "But the risks are also high, because if he is acquitted, then people will say that he is just a minor thug."

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