'Hanging judge' defended at Saddam trial

The trial of deposed Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein and seven co-defendants for crimes against humanity heard testimony on Monday on behalf of the judge who sentenced 148 Shi’ites to death more than two decades ago.

Awad al-Bandar, the former head of the revolutionary court under Saddam, oversaw the trial in 1984 for the people of Dujail on charges that they were involved with an assassination attempt on Saddam two years before.

Al-Bandar faces some of the most serious charges because he convicted and sentenced the townspeople to death in what the prosecution has described as unfair trials.

“The revolutionary court was much better than the criminal court of the country,” said al-Bandar’s first witness, who had once worked as a court lawyer and testified from behind a screen.

Like many of the defence witnesses, the testimony was less about the case and more about the good character of the defendant. The second witness, a one-time defendant before the revolutionary court, described how he had been acquitted by the judge at the time.

“I didn’t want a lawyer because I was innocent, but the judge gave me sufficient time to bring a defence lawyer to defend me,” said the anonymous witness. “I still remember he called me ‘my son’ and I was just a defendant.”

The prosecution maintains that al-Bandar oversaw a court that tried 148 people in half an hour without any defence lawyers.

The charges against the defendants of crimes against humanity revolve around the actions of Saddam and his henchmen in the aftermath of the assassination attempt, including the widespread arrest, torture and interrogations of the Dujailis and the destruction of their property.

The eight accused, who have been on trial since October, face execution by hanging if found guilty.

The former governor of Salaheddin province subsequently took the stand on behalf of Saddam himself and described their development efforts in the province and on the behalf of the people of Dujail.

“He [Saddam] told me to take care of the services of this governorate.
We didn’t want the people of the area to feel they were not treated well because some of them violated the law,” he said.

In the case of Saddam, the defence strategy appears to be an attempt to recast the arrest of hundreds of Shi’ites from Dujail and the execution of the 148 as a natural response to the assassination attempt.

In the case of his half brother and former head of intelligence, Barzan al-Tikriti, as well as former vice-president Taha Yassin Ramadan, the defence approach focuses more on absolving the men of any responsibility in those events between 1982 and 1984.

Other witnesses related how the assassination attempt against Saddam was a plot inspired by Iran, with which Iraq was at war at the time.

In past sessions there have been sharp exchanges between presiding Judge Rauf Abdel Rahman and defendants, as well as nationalistic diatribes by Saddam and Barzan. For the most part, however, testimony has moved forward at a steady pace.

On May 22, the judge did expel one of Saddam’s female defence lawyers for being disruptive.

The trial, which opened on October 19, has been marred by the murder of two defence lawyers and the January resignation of the first chief judge.

Chief prosecutor Jaafar al-Mussawi told Agence France-Presse that the defence testimony could take a few weeks, as nearly 60 witnesses are to testify in the courtroom in Baghdad’s fortified Green Zone. There have been more than 30 witnesses so far.

Once defence testimony is complete, defence lawyers will give their closing statements, followed by the defendants’ final statements, which will mark the end of the trial.

The proceedings could conclude by the end of June, a United States official close to the court said last week, with a verdict coming as early as July.

International human rights advocates say the trial is being conducted well below international legal standards.—AFP

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