The second trial of former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein resumed September 11th in Baghdad. Saddam and six other defendants are charged in connection with the killing of thousands of Kurds in northern Iraq during a late 1980s government military campaign. The trial was postponed after just three days of testimony last month.
Several Kurds already had testified about the horrors they saw in their villages during what is known as the Anfal campaign. Saddam Hussein says he launched the offensive to stamp out Kurdish guerrillas who were helping Iranian forces in the 1980s during the Iran-Iraq war. But eyewitnesses told the court military planes attacked entire villages with chemical weapons and helicopters bombed civilians who fled into the hills.
"My five children lost their sight and they were unable to see anything,” said a Kurdish mother testifying in the first days of the trial.
The prosecution alleges up to 180,000 civilians were killed. Saddam and the six other defendants, mostly former military, are charged with war crimes and crimes against humanity. The former Iraqi leader and his cousin, Ali Hassan al-Majid, also are charged with genocide. Al-Majid is also known as Chemical Ali for the use of poison gas. He allegedly organized the attacks.
The Iraqi High Tribunal is hearing the testimony. The court was set up by the interim government and is following international criminal law. The court tried Saddam and seven different defendants earlier for the killing of 148 Shiites in Dujail, north of Baghad, in 1982. A verdict is expected October 16th.
Some critics say the tribunals may not be fair because the judges are Iraqis. But Catholic University law professor Michael Noone thinks the Saddam trials have been just so far.
"I think that the general consensus is at the working level, at the practical level: he's being treated fairly by the judges that are involved in it."
The private U.S. research group Human Rights Watch says an international tribunal set up by the United Nations should have held the trials. Joe Stork is the group's deputy Middle East director in Washington. He says the Iraqi trials are not fair because the judges are not familiar with international criminal law.
"We are quite confident in saying that there is no way that this trial, without some major changes, that this tribunal can deliver fair justice in this genocide case," says Mr. Stork.
Attorney Ruth Wedgwood is an international law professor at Johns Hopkins School for Advanced International Studies in Washington. She thinks an international tribunal would not be as effective.
"The trial has an Iraqi face and Iraqi people are fulfilling all the roles. But if anything, I think locally this would be seen as having more credibility than would an international trial."
She says genocide is difficult to prove. But she thinks the prosecution will show Saddam killed people during the Anfal campaign because they were Kurds.
"It was such a brutal campaign,” says Ms. Wedgewood. “He had problems with the Kurds who wanted political autonomy, that he was so indiscriminate in his methods of killing."
Law professor Michael Noone says most countries have laws in place that specify punishments for particular crimes. But punishments are left up to the judges in the Iraqi High Tribunal. They can range from fines and imprisonment to death.
"So if Saddam is charged with murder, it is up to the judge to decide which one of those punishments the judge wants," Noone tells us.
The Anfal trial is likely to take months. Prosecutors plan to bring up to 75 witnesses and extensive documents from the Saddam regime, as well as evidence from mass graves.