HRW: “judicial independence” trampled in Saddam trial

How many times a day do we have to say “A plague on both your houses”? First Saddam vows to “crush the heads” of Kurds testifying about his genocidal 1988 “Anfal” campaign. Then the judge in the case, Adullah al-Almiri, responds by re-assuring him that he was “not a dictator,” which makes about as much sense as saying he didn’t have a moustache. Not to be outdone in cynicism, Prime Minister al-Maliki promptly responds by having Justice al-Almiri summarily removed in dictatorial manner—thereby further compromising the case against the ex-dictator. And one of the charges against Saddam concerns lack of judicial independence under his regime! It seems Iraq’s new bosses are starting to emulate their own much-demonized ousted tyrant.

First this, in case you missed it, from AP, Sept. 14, emphasis added:

BAGHDAD — The chief judge in Saddam Hussein’s genocide trial said Thursday that he does not believe Hussein was a dictator.

Judge Abdullah al-Amiri made the remark in a friendly exchange with the deposed leader, a day after the prosecution said the judge should step down because he is biased toward the defense. Hussein and his co-defendants are being tried on charges of committing atrocities against Kurds in northern Iraq nearly two decades ago.

Questioning a Kurdish witness Thursday, Hussein said, “I wonder why this man wanted to meet with me, if I am a dictator?”

The judge interrupted: “You were not a dictator. People around you made you (look like) a dictator.”

“Thank you,” Hussein responded, bowing his head in respect.

Two hours after the comment about Saddam, al-Amiri abruptly postponed the session until Monday for what he called “technical reasons,” without having heard from a third scheduled witness. No further explanation was given.

Al-Amiri heads the five-judge panel that oversees the trial and will deliver the verdict. A Shiite Muslim in his mid-50s, he has been a judge for 25 years, serving a substantial portion of that time under Saddam’s regime.

The panel will vote on guilt or innocence and a majority decision will be final.

Hussein lashed out Tuesday against what he called “agents of Iran and Zionism” and vowed to “crush your heads” after listening to Kurdish witnesses tell of the horrors allegedly committed by his fallen regime.

The next day, Chief Prosecutor Munqith al-Faroon demanded al-Amiri step down, accusing him of bias toward the deposed leader and his co-defendants.

“You allowed this court to become a political podium for the defendants,” al-Faroon told al-Amiri.

The prosecutor said the judge was giving Hussein time to make “political” statements that were irrelevant to the proceedings.

On Thursday, the 57-year-old Kurdish witness testified that Hussein aggressively told him to “shut up” when he pleaded for the release of nine relatives who disappeared in an offensive on his northern Iraqi village nearly two decades ago.

“I told Saddam, ‘Sir, my family members were arrested,”‘ farmer Abdullah Mohammed Hussein recounted.

“Saddam asked me where, and I told him, ‘in my village.’ Saddam said, ‘Shut up. Your family is gone in the Anfal,”‘ the witness said, referring to Iraq’s 1987-88 campaign to suppress a Kurdish revolt in northern Iraq.

He looked anxious as he gave the opening testimony in the fourth court session this week.

Abdullah Hussein said he had not been shy about arguing with the Iraqi president, whom he had been allowed to see in response to a plea he presented to local authorities in his village.

Speaking in Kurdish through an Arabic translator, the witness said Saddam Hussein told him, “Shut up. Don’t talk anymore. Get out of here.”

“I saluted him, saying, ‘Yes, sir.’ And I left. I consoled myself, thinking that Saddam may feel sorry for me and set my family free. I was very sad. But I really hoped he would release them,” Abdullah Hussein said.

Previous witnesses said the remains of relatives who went missing during Operation Anfal were found in mass graves several years later. Some recalled how they survived chemical attacks allegedly carried out by Hussein’s regime against the Kurdish population.

Hussein has accused the Kurdish witnesses of trying to sow ethnic division in Iraq by alleging chemical attacks and mass arrests in their villages during a crackdown in the late 1980s.

Hussein and six others, including his cousin “Chemical” Ali al-Majid, have been accused of genocide and other offenses in connection with Operation Anfal.

The prosecution alleges that about 180,000 Kurds died — many of them civilians. Hussein and the others could face death by hanging if convicted.

Now this, from the Nigeria Tribune, Sept. 21:

THE chief judge in Saddam Hussein’s genocide trial has ejected the ousted Iraqi leader from the courtroom for refusing to sit down moments after hearings began.

The trial resumed on Wednesday with a new chief judge — Mohammad Orabi Majeed Al-Khalefa — just a day after Iraq’s government demanded that Chief Judge Adullah al-Almiri be replaced because of his statement that the ousted leader was not a dictator.

Responding to the change, defense attorneys for Hussein immediately left the courtroom after reading a statement condemning the move. “We believe the judiciary does not enjoy the independence required,” the statement said, adding “the decision is against the main principles governing the independence and integrity of the judiciary.” A short time later, the former Iraqi leader argued with the new chief judge and was ejected.

“Take him out,” Al-Khalefa said. “Get out.” On Tuesday, Ali Dabbagh, a spokesman for Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, said Chief Judge Adullah al-Almiri could no longer be considered impartial and said the government had the administrative authority to remove him.

“We believe that Judge al-Almiri has lost his neutrality after describing Saddam as ‘not a dictator’ before the procedures of this trial are over,” Dabbagh said. “This hurts the feelings of the Iraqi people, and so the government has asked that Judge al-Almiri be replaced by another judge, which the Iraqi High Tribunal will pick.”

The U.S.-based Human Rights Watch said the move shows “a complete lack of respect for judicial independence.”

See our last posts Iraq and the Saddam trial.