Saddam’s new judge from Halabja

The trial of Saddam Hussein continues to get more problematic. From the London Times, Jan. 24:

THE court trying Saddam Hussein has replaced its chief judge a day before the former dictator returns to the dock. The Iraqi Special Tribunal yesterday named Raouf Rasheed Abdel-Rahman, a Kurd from Halabja, where 5,000 died in a gas attack during an offensive by Saddam’s forces, to succeed Rizgar Amin.

Judge Amin, who is also Kurdish, quit after criticism of his handling of the dictator. Since the beginning of the trial Saddam’s tirades from the dock have delayed proceedings and angered many Iraqis, including senior politicians.

Judge Amin had been expected to be replaced by his deputy on the five-judge panel, Judge Said al-Hammish. But Judge al-Hammish was yesterday moved to another case, said Raad Juhi, the chief investigator. Another new judge will be brought in to replace him.

Mr Juhi denied that Judge al-Hammish had been transferred because of controversy surrounding accusations by the de-Baathification committee, given the task of removing former Baath party members from public office, that he had been a high-ranking Baathist.

The controversy has thrown a cloud over the handling of the trial, with defence lawyers and international rights bodies calling for it to be held abroad, and claiming that the trial risks being seen as unfair if it continues in Baghdad. Two defence lawyers were kidnapped and murdered just after the trial began in October. Another judge was forced to step down because he discovered that he was related to a victim in the case. A key prosecution witness also had to give filmed testimony from his death bed in the final stages of a terminal disease as the trial started.

Saddam and seven co-defendants, including his half-brother Barzan al-Tikriti and Taha Yassin Ramadan, the former vice-president, stand accused of ordering the deaths of 143 men from Dujail after a failed assassination attempt in 1982. The tyrant has held long tirades denouncing the court and claiming that he had been abused by court wardens and denied basic privileges, such as showers and access to writing material, during the proceedings.

The court is to resume hearings today under the auspices of the new acting chief judge.

If his eventual conviction is seen by the world as tainted, it will set a terrible precedent for international justice. Which is why we echo the call of Israeli leftist commentator Uri Avnery: “Send Saddam to The Hague!” He wrote on Dec. 20, 2003:

A vanquished Saddam will be more dangerous than a victorious Saddam.

The question arises: what to do with the prisoner? The Americans have already said what they intend to do: hand him over to their Iraqi servants, so that he can be tried and executed in Iraq. That would be a first-class blunder.

Nobody will believe in the fairness of such a trial. There is no way it could be fair, because in a fair trial Saddam would use the public platform to make his own accusations and reach out to hundreds of millions of Arabs and other Muslims. The best would have been to let him escape to the Fiji islands, there to live out his life quietly, like Idi Amin in Saudi Arabia. But George Bush needs the ongoing humiliation of Saddam for his reelection campaign.

The only reasonable way out now is to transfer Saddam to The Hague. In the eyes of the world, he is entitled to the same treatment as another political mass-murderer, Slobodan Milosevic. If he is treated differently, every Muslim will rightly suspect that there is a double standard: one for a Christian European leader, one for a Muslim Arab one.

But Bush will not be satisfied until the body of Saddam is hanging in a public square in Baghdad � perhaps the same square where his statue stood before it was toppled in a carefully staged TV spectacle.

See our last posts on the trial of Saddam, the idiots who defend him, and the ongoing Iraq quagmire.