Rory McCarthy / The Guardian (UK) – 2004-07-06 10:32:11
Baghdad (July 2, 2004) — He arrived rattling in chains at the door of a building named Victory Courthouse in the grounds of his former palace now occupied by America’s generals.
High Value Detainee One was uncuffed, brought in with guards holding him by the arms and curtly seated before the judge. This was the moment so many of his subjects had hungered for and not a few had dreaded: their dictator rendered impotent, humiliated and accused before an Iraqi court.
For a moment he sat nonplussed and then began in the simplest way what may become a protracted and politicised campaign of defiance. “I am Saddam Hussein, the president of Iraq,” he said.
If his critics, opponents and victims were expecting the final disgrace of their scourge this was not it. Instead, clear-eyed, insistent, prodding and embittered, Saddam for 26 minutes seemed to fill the court with his hectoring.
Before him the young, clean-shaven judge, too frightened to be named, appeared at a loss to curb the lectures of his former dictator. It should have been the briefest of formalities, the reading of accusations of heinous crimes and an explanation of the defendant’s legal rights. Instead, every moment became a challenge.
Saddam, 67, was asked to confirm his name, date of birth and position as former president, head of the Arab Ba’ath Socialist party and leader of the Iraqi armed forces. For a second time he described himself as the still-serving president. “Put down ‘former’ in brackets,” the judge told the court clerk. Where do you live, the judge asked? “I live in each Iraqi’s house,” came the reply.
Then the former dictator turned to the judge to begin his own interrogation. He asked the judge who he was, where he studied for his law degree, whether he was properly qualified and under which law he was acting.
“I have worked since the former regime and I have been nominated by the coalition authorities,” the judge said. Saddam snapped back: “This means you are applying the invaders’ laws to try me.”
Later it began again: “How do you bring me to this place without any defence attorney?” Saddam asked. The judge said the court would provide a lawyer if he could not afford one. “But everyone says, the Americans say, I have millions of dollars stashed away in Geneva. Why shouldn’t I afford a lawyer?” The judge promised him access to his private team of defence lawyers.
Outside in the brilliant sunshine two Apache attack helicopters circled overhead. The court building had once been the residence for an imam from the blue-domed mosque next door. American troops had repainted it and inside held their first courts martial in the Abu Ghraib abuse investigation.
Saddam wore a chalkstripe grey jacket, brown trousers and a white open-necked shirt, all bought a few days earlier from a Baghdad high street store. It meant he looked in better health than last time he was seen in public. That was in December hours after he had been dragged from a shallow hole in the dirt close to the village where he was born. His hair and beard were dirty and unkempt.
For yesterday’s appearance he had trimmed his beard and tidied his hair. There was only an occasional tremor in his hands as he spoke, and as the guards went to take him to leave he said: “Take it easy, I’m an old man.”
The press was so tightly controlled that barely a handful of Arab and western reporters were granted access. The only journalist present from an Iraqi organisation was told to leave before the hearing began. The US military refused to let journalists record the hearing and then afterwards refused to release their own audio tape of the proceedings until it had been approved.
In court, next to the press, sat Saddam’s accusers: Salem Chalabi, the director of the court and nephew of Saddam’s most vocal opponent, Ahmad Chalabi, and Mowaffaq al-Rubaie, a former exile in Britain, close ally of the Americans and now national security adviser for the new Iraqi government. They were among those who crafted the law and chose the crimes with which Saddam will eventually be formally charged.
From a single sheet of paper the judge read the seven briefly outlined charges which will be investigated in greater detail. They ranged from the general, the killing of political and of religious leaders over the past 30 years, to the specific: the chemical weapons attack on the Kurdish village of Halabja in 1988, the Anfal campaign against the Kurds around the same time, the killing of the Barzanis, the family of a leading Kurdish politician, the repression of the 1991 uprising that followed the Gulf war and the invasion of Kuwait in August 1990.
As the list was read Saddam reached into his jacket pocket to pull out a folded sheet of legal notepaper and began writing. He was not asked to admit or deny the accusations, though he did not seem to shirk the blame: “I did all these things as president so don’t strip me of that title,” he said.
The mention of Kuwait, though, particularly inflamed him. “I am surprised you are charging me with this. You are Iraqi and everyone knows Kuwait is part of Iraq,” he said.
Then he grew more angry, gesticulating rapidly, grasping his temple, prodding his pen at the court. “In Kuwait I was protecting the Iraqi people from those Kuwaiti dogs who wanted to turn Iraqi women into 10-dinar prostitutes,” he said. And again later in exasperation: “Everyone knows this is theatre by Bush the criminal in an attempt to win the election.”
In the end the judge asked him to sign a document acknowledging he understood the accusations against him. Saddam refused. “Please allow me not to sign until the lawyers are present,” he said. “Why would you behave in a manner that we might call hasty later on?”
After Saddam was led out Mr Chalabi and Mr Rubaie grinned and joked at the spectacle they had witnessed.
Another 11 detainees, all senior party or military officials from the regime, including Ali Hassan al-Majid, better known as Chemical Ali, Tariq Aziz, the former foreign minister, and Saddam’s half-brothers Watban and Barzan al-Tikriti, made much briefer appearances through the rest of the afternoon.
Already the Iraqi government has reintroduced the death penalty with an eye to Saddam’s almost inevitable fate. “It’s going to be the trial of the century,” said Mr Rubaie.
Transcript of Saddam Hussein’s Proceeding
BAGHDAD (July 2, 2004) — The following partial transcript of the hearing for Saddam Hussein, transcribed by eMediaMillWorks Inc, was taken from audio that was edited by the US military.
The audio did not reflect everything Saddam Hussein said during his arraignment, such as Saddam’s remark: “This is all a theatre by Bush, the criminal.”
A question mark after a name indicates that it was not completely clear who was speaking:
SADDAM: Saddam Hussein, the president of the Republic of Iraq. Saddam Hussein Majid, the president of the Republic of Iraq.
(UNKNOWN): Profession? Former president of the Republic of Iraq.
SADDAM: No, present. Current. It’s the will of the people.
JUDGE: The head of the Baath Party that is dissolved, defunct. Former commander in chief of the army.
(UNKNOWN): Residence is Iraq.
JUDGE: Your mother’s name?
TRANSLATOR: He stated the following. (After positively identifying the defendant): He was present before us.
SADDAM : May I have a clarification?
JUDGE: Go ahead, please.
SADDAM: You also have to introduce yourself to me.
JUDGE: Mr Saddam, I am the investigative judge of the central court of Iraq.
SADDAM: So that I have to know, you are an investigative judge of the central court of Iraq? What resolution, what law formed this court?
SADDAM: Oh, the coalition forces? So you are an Iraqi that – you are representing the occupying forces?
JUDGE: No, I’m an Iraqi representing Iraq.
SADDAM: But you are …
JUDGE: I was appointed by a presidential decree under the former regime.
SADDAM: So you are reiterating that every Iraqi should respect the Iraqi law. So the law that was instituted before represents the will of the people, right?
JUDGE (?): Yes, God willing.
SADDAM: So you should not work under the jurisdiction of the coalition forces.
JUDGE: This is an important point. I am a judge. In the former regime, I respect the judges. And I am resuming and continuing my work.
You, as any other citizen, you have to answer to any accusation or charge.
(UNKNOWN): That’s true.
JUDGE: This is an arraignment, a charge. If it can be proven, then you will be convicted. If not, then everything is fine. The judicial due process is to bring back rights. If there’s evidence, you’ll be convicted. If there’s no evidence, you will not.
Until now, you’re accused before the judicial system. So according to that …
SADDAM: So, please let me – I’m not complicating matters.
Are you a judge? You are a judge. And judges, they value the law. And they rule by law, right? Right?
Right is a relative issue. For us, right is our heritage in the Koran, sharia, right?
I am not talking about Saddam Hussein, whether he was a citizen or in other capacities. I’m not holding fast to my position, but to respect the will of the people that decided to choose Saddam Hussein as the leader of the revolution.
Therefore, when I say president of the Republic of Iraq, it’s not a formality or holding fast to a position, but rather to reiterate to the Iraqi people that I respect its will. This is one.
Number two, you summoned me to levy charges.
(UNKNOWN): No, I …
SADDAM: You call it crimes.
JUDGE: If there is evidence, then I’ll defer it to a court of jurisdiction.
SADDAM: Let me understand something. Who is the defendant? Any defendant when he comes to a court, before that there should be investigation. This is not a court. This is investigation. This is investigation now.
Let me clarify this point. Then I hope that you remember you are a judge empowered by the people. It doesn’t really matter whether you convict me or not; that’s not what’s important. But what’s important is that you remember that you’re a judge. Then don’t mention anything, occupying forces. This is not good.
Then I judge – in the name of people. Then that’s good. Then judge in the name of people. This is the Iraqi way.
JUDGE: Mr. Saddam, this is an investigation process – investigative process before, before.
SADDAM: From the legal standpoint, you were notified that I have lawyers, right? Am I not supposed to meet with the lawyers before I come before you?
JUDGE: If you give me just 10 minutes, let’s finish the formalities and I’ll come to that. Then if you wait, then you will see that you have rights that are guaranteed.
SADDAM: Okay. Go ahead.
JUDGE: According to the law, Mr Saddam, the investigative judge has to give the defendant – give him the charges that are levied against him. And then reading the rights of all the charges according to the law, Article 123, 124 and 125.
The first step is, are these articles, were they not signed by Saddam Hussein?
SADDAM: Yes, this is the law that was in ’73. So then Saddam Hussein was representing the leadership and signed that law. So now you are using the law that Saddam signed against Saddam. Saddam was the people.
Please, the constitutional mechanism – I’m not a lawyer but I understand – I am originally a man of law. Is it allowed to call a president elected by the people and charge him according to a law that was enacted under his will and the will of the people?
There is some contradiction.
JUDGE: No. The judicial process – let me answer this clarification.
First, I’m not deliberating a case against you, I’m investigating, I’m investigating with you, interrogating you.
Second, the president is a profession, is a position, is a deputy of the society. That’s true. And originally, inherently, he’s a citizen. And every citizen, according to the law and the constitution, if this person violates a law, has to come before the law. And that law you know more than I do.
The crimes that are charges.
Intended killing by using chemical weapons in Halabjah.
Second, intended killing to a great number of Iraqis in 1983.
Three, intended killing to a number of members of the political parties without trials.
Fourth, intended killing to many Iraqi religious people.
Fifth, intended killing to many Iraqis in Anfal (ph) without any evidence against them.
You have the right to defend and answer. These are the guarantees.
Now we come to an important matter. You have heard the court read the crimes that you’re charged – or were attributed to the accused, Saddam Hussein. And you were told what the articles of the law that apply to those cases. And the court has read to you the rights and the guarantees that any accused is entitled to, which includes the rights of defence and representation, and also the right not to answer any question asked, and that will never be used as evidence against you, against the accused.
And the court also presented to the accused the right to argue the evidence.
The accused requested to meet with the defence lawyers, his private defence lawyers to be present with him in the investigative sessions. And in light of that, the minutes were concluded and the investigation is deferred, postponed until the accused is enabled to contact his representation, his lawyers, and another appointment for the next session will be decided.
The charges that were levied against Saddam Hussein – you should sign so that I can talk to …
SADDAM (?): Okay. Let me sign.
But you levied charges in my capacity as the president of the republic. The talk about Halabjah, I used to hear about that in the radio, attacking Halabjah under the regime of Saddam Hussein.
JUDGE: This is only the legal matters, and you have the right to not answer until a lawyer is present.
SADDAM: This is for the previous review. If you want to review – repeat it in the presence of the lawyers and I don’t sign, then yes. But if you want me to sign and then the lawyers come, then no. You have to hear me out.
And the occupation of Kuwait, the charge number seven, unfortunately. It’s unfortunately that this is coming out of an Iraqi. The law is there, law to charge Saddam Hussein because Kuwaitis said that the Iraqi women will come to the street for 10 dinars. And I defended the honour of the Iraqis. Those animals.
JUDGE: Don’t use foul language and attack. This is a legal session.
SADDAM: Yes, I bear responsibilities for everything.
JUDGE: Anything outside of obscenity or outside of the norms of a legal session is not accepted.
SADDAM: Then forgive me.
JUDGE (?): Allow me. The seventh charge was against Saddam Hussein as president of the republic and the commander in chief of the army. And the army went to Kuwait.
SADDAM: Okay. Then in the former capacity, then is it permissible to charge an official title and the person is to be dealt with in violation of the guarantees that are afforded by the constitution. This is the law that you’re using to use against me now.
This is the crux of the matter, Mr Judge. Charges are levied because actions were taken in a system whose president was Saddam Hussein, but without guarantees, presidential guarantees. This is from the legal standpoint.
JUDGE (?): Well, answer to those charges. This is investigation. Answer. You tell us formally.
JUDGE: This is only for the minutes. If you read the minutes, we say that we postponed the investigation.
SADDAM: Then please allow me not to sign until the lawyers are present.
JUDGE: That is fine.
SADDAM: I speak for myself.
JUDGE: Yes, as a citizen you have the right. But the guarantees you have to sign because these were read to you, recited to you.
JUDGE: No, no. This is part of the process.
SADDAM: No, this is not part of the process.
JUDGE: No, this is part of the process.
SADDAM: Anyway, why are you worried? I will come again before you with the presence of the lawyers, and you will be giving me all of these documents again. So why should we rush any action now and make mistakes because of rushed and hasty decisions or actions?
JUDGE: No, this is not a hasty decision-making now. I’m just investigating. And we need to conclude and seal the minutes.
SADDAM: No, I will sign when the lawyers are present.
JUDGE: Then you can leave.