The risks of putting Saddam on trial

Judges, prosecutors, attorneys, even law clerks and accountants involved in cases linked to Saddam Hussein’s decades of rule in Iraq live in constant fear of being targeted for death.

Last week’s abduction and murder of Saadoun Janabi, attorney for one of Saddam’s seven co-defendants in a trial for crimes committed against residents of the town of Dujail in 1982 that opened on Wednesday, points to the delicate issue of protecting the hundreds of people involved in the case.

Janabi was kidnapped just one day after the trial opened. His body was found the next morning with a bullet to his head.

His client was Awad Hamad al-Bandar al-Sadun, a former chief judge of the revolutionary court and deputy head of Saddam’s office. Sadun sat next to Saddam on the first day of the trial.

Iraq’s Special Tribunal, set up especially to try crimes against humanity, war crimes and charges of genocide committed between July 1968—when Saddam’s Baath party came to power—and May 2003, when he was ousted by a United States-led invasion, may handle up to 12 major cases on atrocities.

The cases will likely involving dozens of co-defendants and their teams of attorneys, and could potentially drag on for years.

Many of the tribunal judges and court employees have chosen to remain anonymous for security reasons.

“Everyone that participates in the process takes enormous risks and is very courageous,” said Wesley Gryk, a member of the human rights group Amnesty International.

Janabi was the sixth person linked to the Special Tribunal and its cases killed since the court was set up in December 2003.

In early March a Kurdish investigative judge, Barwize Mohammed Marwane, was shot dead outside his home along with his son Arayan, also a court employee.

A tribunal accountant, a member of the court’s media department, and a security guard have also been killed.

Assailants at least once tried to kill one of the five judges on the panel trying Saddam in the Dujail case, Gryk said.

People linked to the cases routinely receive death threats “by mail, by telephone or even in person”, said Khalil al-Dulaimi, Saddam’s Iraqi lawyer, in an interview with the Arab language news network al-Jazeera.

According to Dulaimi, defence attorneys “have asked US forces and the Iraqi government to offer the same protection that tribunal employees get”.

Leith Kubba, spokesperson for Iraqi Prime Minister Ibrahim Jaafari, denied receiving any such request.

“It is the duty of the government to provide security for the judicial system while at the same time respecting its independence,” Kubba said.

But the Dujail case defence attorneys “did not request special protection and they did not object to being shown on live broadcast”, Kubba said in a statement.

According to the New York-based Human Rights Watch, Baghdad authorities are guilty of failing to provide proper security.

“The government must be held accountable,” said Joe Stork, a top HRW official handling cases in the Middle East and North Africa.

There is an urgent need to review security and take proper safety measures “because the process is a historic moment that can lead to the reconciliation of the Iraqi society”, said Gryk.

Tribunal officials “should at least offer protected housing for the attorneys, in view of the importance of the trial and the danger that surrounds it.
In any case, it will be up to them to accept or refuse it”, he said.

Yet even Gryk acknowledges that infallible security is a fantasy.

Preventing armed men from bursting into the courtroom is one thing. “But violence is impossible to totally avoid,” he said. - AFP

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