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."
The Anfal tribunal opened in the former headquarters of Hussein's Baath Party, in the Green Zone. The former president, in a black suit and white shirt with an open collar, was the first defendant to enter the room. Like all of the defendants, he sat in a wooden cage divided into three rows.
The last defendant to enter was Majeed, commander of northern Iraq during the time of the Anfal campaign, whose frail appearance belied his fearsome reputation. A stooped man with plum-sized bags under his eyes, he shuffled in slowly with the aid of a cane.
Hussein had far fewer outbursts Monday than in his first trial, when he hurled insults at the judges. At one point on Monday, he showed out-of-character deference after he attempted to interrupt the chief judge.
"Please don't interrupt," snapped the judge, Abdullah al-Amiri.
"Sorry, I thought you had finished," said Hussein, who then kept quiet.
But Hussein also exhibited his unruly side at times, especially at the beginning of the session. When asked to state his name, he refused.
"You know my name," Hussein retorted. "My name is well known to you."
"I must ask you your name," said Amiri, noting that the law required him to do so. He waved a book of regulations in the air. "Do you respect this law?"
Hussein sat stone-faced for a few moments before replying: "This is the law of the occupation." Eventually he stated his name and declared himself "president of the Republic of Iraq and commander in chief of the heroic Iraqi armed forces."
He became visibly angry only later in the session, when he vehemently denied that widespread rapes had taken place during Anfal. "How could it be that an Iraqi Kurdish woman was raped while Saddam Hussein was in power?" he said.
Legal experts and U.S. officials expect Amiri, a 54-year-old Shiite with 25 years of experience as a judge, to exert greater discipline on the courtroom than in the first trial, which was widely seen as chaotic. "It was a mess," said Scharf, the law professor.
The judge was also unyielding in his enforcement of a law that prevents non-Iraqi lawyers from speaking in the court, even though it was allowed in the Dujail case. Two defense attorneys walked out of the court room in protest.
The chief prosecutor, Mousawi, said in an interview after court that the judge "had two characteristics: total calmness and strength. He was in total control for the entire session, over the lawyers and the witnesses."
Elsewhere in Iraq, the U.S. military announced the deaths of two Marines and a sailor during fighting Sunday in Anbar province, a western redoubt of the Sunni insurgency. The U.S. military also announced the death of a service member Monday in Baghdad when his vehicle was struck by a bomb. No details were available.
Interior Ministry officials said 20 people were killed Monday in incidents in and around Baghdad. And the casualty toll from attacks by Sunni insurgents on Shiite pilgrims marching Sunday in Baghdad increased to 25 dead and nearly 400 wounded, according to a Health Ministry spokesman.
At a meeting with reporters in Baghdad, a top U.S. military official said U.S.-led forces would turn over command of an entire Iraqi army division for the first time on Sept. 3. U.S. troops, though, will continue to handle logistics for the division, the Kut-based 8th, said the official, Brig. Gen. Dan Pittard, commander of the Iraqi Assistance Group, which advises Iraqi security forces.
Correspondents Ellen Knickmeyer and Sudarsan Raghavan in Baghdad, special correspondents Saad al-Izzi and Naseer Nouri in Baghdad and Saad Sarhan in Najaf, and other Washington Post staff contributed to this report.