Prospects to try Hussein still uncertain
BAGHDAD, Iraq – In the year since he was captured and hustled away to a secret location, Saddam Hussein has taken up gardening, undergone a hernia operation and written poetry that one visitor describes as “rubbishy.”
What he has not done is meet with any of the 20 lawyers claiming to represent him. And with the country in the grips of an insurgency, predicting when Iraq’s most famous prisoner will be tried is no easier now than it was on the day he was pulled from his hiding spot in a spider hole near his hometown of Tikrit.
When Saddam first appeared before an Iraqi court in July, some officials predicted a swift trial. Ever since, they have said October, November or December. Now, they expect it no earlier than the beginning of 2006, Iraq’s National Security Adviser Mouwafak al-Rubaie told The Associated Press.
“This is going to be probably the trial of the century and we have to get it right,” al-Rubaie said. “We can’t suddenly try him and sentence him to either life in prison or whatever, execute him 100 times as some people want to do.”
Officials say the work of gathering evidence – documents, mass grave sites, testimony from victims – continues away from the public eye and beyond the reach of the insurgents. They insist it is being done meticulously and legitimately.
American officials with the Department of Justice’s Regime Crimes Liaison Office are advising the Iraqi Special Tribunal on the process of bringing Saddam to trial. The Americans paid the tribunal’s budget of $75 million for 2004-2005.
But with elections approaching Jan. 30, the Iraqi government is in flux and likely to stay that way for another year until a new constitution is drafted and another round of elections is held in December 2005.
Trainers also face a dearth of qualified Iraqi prosecutors, defense lawyers and judges. If proper attorneys are found, they assume a new kind of risk – threats from the guerrillas, believed to be mostly Sunni Muslims like Saddam, or others trying to stymie the trial.
Few Iraqi lawyers are willing to represent Saddam, while prosecutors fear challenging him. The same goes for the judges overseeing the case, slowing its work.
“At various points in time they have had a number of judges who have since withdrawn,” said Hania Mufti, a spokeswoman for New York-based Human Rights Watch who has followed the case. “So that’s been a practical problem on the ground.”
Saddam first appeared before the court July 1, without a lawyer. From his standpoint, little headway has been made since.
A lawyer was supposed to meet him for the first time Wednesday, but the U.S. military canceled the meeting.
“Denying him this right is a serious breach of international protocols,” Saddam’s lawyers, who were appointed by Saddam’s wife, Sajida, said Sunday in a statement.
The Jordan-based legal team called for Saddam’s immediate release, calling his detention “illegal right from the very beginning.”