Iraqi Judge Recalls Hussein's Trial as a Turning Point
Sunday, July 27, 2008
Saddam Hussein's survival instincts were not dulled by prison, according to one Iraqi judge who faced the former president in a courtroom and recalls his cunning and rhetorical posturing.
"Are you an American or a foreign judge?" Raid Juhi Hamadi al-Saedi remembered Hussein quizzing him during a pretrial hearing in July 2004.
The youthful judge was unfazed by the self-styled Sword of the Arabs.
"You signed my assignment order," he told him.
Then there was the moment when Hussein, playing for time and apparently angling for leverage, demanded, "What law are you using?"
"Your law. The laws you passed during your time," responded Juhi, who was confirmed to the bench a year before the 2003 U.S.-led invasion that toppled Hussein. "We don't have new laws."
Thus was set in motion Hussein's year-long trial on charges of massive human rights abuses against his own people. Juhi, in his capacity as the Iraqi High Tribunal's chief investigative judge, indicted the former president and seven other men for crimes against humanity in the killing of 148 men and boys from the Shiite village of Dujail in 1982. He also indicted Hussein and his industrialization minister, known as Chemical Ali, for genocide in the slaughter of 182,000 mostly Kurdish Iraqis in the 1987-88 Anfal campaigns. The trial in the Dujail case opened in October 2005.
For Juhi, the trial of Hussein marked a turning point in Iraqis' perception of their country's justice system. For decades, they had been terrorized by obscure, secretive courts directly linked to an absolute ruler.
"This trial," Juhi said, "laid the groundwork for a new philosophy for Iraqis -- respect of human rights, rights of suspects to a fair trial, whoever they are and regardless of the cruelty or viciousness of their crimes," he said. At the same time, he added, "no matter how high someone's position is and how much power he has at his command, one of these days he will be held accountable."
But the trial also put a spotlight on Juhi, the unassuming, diligent jurist who has been at the epicenter of post-invasion Iraq's most momentous investigations.
Now 36, Juhi is in Washington as a senior summer fellow with the U.S. Institute of Peace. He came to New York in May 2007 on a three-year fellowship at Cornell Law School, where he lectures and writes about his experiences and transitional justice initiatives. His is the story of an ordinary Iraqi who outlived a repressive regime, survived a war and took on a dangerous task to help his countrymen become masters of their own fate.
Juhi's legal career began in 1993. After stints in the military and the Justice Ministry, he scored his first big job -- as chief investigator in Saddam City, now Sadr City, a warren of 2.7 million people that swelled to 3 million in the daytime. He kept tabs on petty crime -- theft, domestic violence and the forgery that thrived in the infamous Mreidi souk, where "fake documents, fake IDs, fake passports, fake anything" were churned out.