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Saddam Hussein Trial Resumes at the End of November

The trial of former Iraqi president Saddam Hussein is scheduled to resume in Baghdad November 28.

On December 14, 2003 Paul Bremer, then the head of the U.S.-led Coalition Provisional Authority, announced in Baghdad: "Ladies and gentlemen, we got him!"

Mr. Bremer was referring to former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein who had been in hiding since American forces invaded his country in March 2003.

"Saddam Hussein was captured Saturday December 13th at about 8:30 PM local [time], in a cellar in the town of al-Dawr, which is about 15 kilometers south of Tikrit," announced Paul Bremer.

Twenty-two months after being dragged from his hiding place, Saddam Hussein appeared in court October 19.

Laurel Miller, international law and war crimes expert with the U.S. Institute of Peace, explains the crimes against humanity charges leveled at Saddam Hussein.

"In this trial that has recently opened, he is charged - together with seven co-defendants - for an incident that occurred in 1982 in the town of Dujail," she explained. "There was an assassination attempt on Saddam Hussein and in retribution for that, 140 or more people were killed without any sort of proper judicial process. People were tortured. Some people were summarily executed. Whole families were jailed for long periods of time."

At the trial's opening session, the former Iraqi leader said he did not recognize the court's authority, because the United States helped set it up. Nevertheless, he pleaded not guilty to the charges. After three hours, the trial was adjourned until November 28, to give lawyers more time to work on Saddam Hussein's defense.

Michael Scharf is a leading U.S. expert on international criminal law at Case Western Reserve School of Law in Cleveland, Ohio. He says while the Dujail case is the easiest to prosecute because of the available evidence, Saddam Hussein and other co-defendants will face multiple trials.

"There are going to be a series of cases, maybe 12 in all," said Michael Scharf. "And they are going to range from such significant incidents as the Anfal campaign in which hundreds of thousands of Kurds in the north were slaughtered; the attacks on the southern marsh Arabs which resulted in about 500,000 deaths; the invasion of Kuwait and other major incidents."

Experts say Iraqi officials knew they had to create a special tribunal if Saddam Hussein were to be tried for crimes against humanity, genocide and war crimes.

Derek Gilman is an attorney who helped draft the statutes of what was to become the Iraqi Special Tribunal. He says Iraqis were adamant about one thing.

"The Iraqis made it clear that they wanted this to be an Iraqi tribunal and not an international tribunal," he said. "Their view was that it was the Iraqis who had suffered principally at the hands of Saddam, that many in the international community did nothing when these atrocities were occurring and so it was not appropriate for folks who did nothing while these atrocities were occurring, to now try to sit in judgment. And additionally, the Iraqis pointed out that the concept of the rule of law itself had originated in Iraq about five thousand years ago with the code of Hamurabi. And so that Iraq had a very, very long history of jurisprudence and the Iraqi jurists were eager to show that Iraq was in fact the land of Hamurabi and the land of jurisprudence."

Mr. Gilman says while the judges sitting on the Special Tribunal are all Iraqis, the statutes governing that body are a mixture of Iraqi and international law.

"In fact, the crimes themselves are a mixture of international and Iraqi crimes," he said. "There are three sets of international crimes: genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes. And then there are some specific offenses under Iraqi law: tampering with the judiciary, wastage of national resources and making war upon an Arab neighbor. And the procedures governing the Iraqi Special Tribunal are a combination of procedures that are specific to that tribunal, drawn from international sources and standard Iraqi criminal procedures."

Iraqi officials were next faced with selecting judges for the special tribunal and training them in international law. Professor Scharf from the Case School of Law helped train some of those judges and he explains how they were selected.

"There were 1,000 judges in Iraq to choose from," said Michael Scharf. "Two hundred of those judges were excluded because they had been party to Saddam Hussein's nationalist revolutionary courts which were corrupt and used as a political weapon. Another couple of hundred were excluded because they were members of the Baath regime which was Saddam Hussein's ruling party. Another couple of hundred were excluded because during interviews, it became clear that they had run-ins with the Saddam Hussein regime and therefore may have an axe to grind [were biased]. And that left about 400 judges that were interviewed and vetted by the Iraqi Bar Association and the Iraqi government and they selected what they thought were the top 50."

Those 50 judges now make up the core of the Iraqi Special Tribunal.

Marc Vlasic was a prosecution attorney in the trial of former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic and he also helped train Iraqi judges.

"Much of the focus of the meetings were to provide them with an overview of international humanitarian law, but also to go into details of how international tribunals work - really to share with them the lessons learned from our experiences at various international tribunals," said Marc Vlasic.

Experts say much care has been given to prepare for this high-profile trial. But they also say the key issue is whether Saddam Hussein can get a fair trial given the nature of the crimes and the person charged with committing them.