Saddam verdict: victims celebrate, but many dread backlash, joy and sense of justice tinged with fear

Simon Bristow, The Yorkshire Post, November 6, 2006
THERE was joy from his victims, a sense of justice from relatives of those he killed, and a studied satisfaction from foreign ministers when it was announced Saddam Hussein would hang for committing crimes against humanity.
But there were almost universal fears the ruling by an Iraqi court would plunge the country into further chaos and questions about whether the former dictator could ever have received a fair trial.
British reaction came swiftly, with Foreign Secretary Margaret Beckett saying Saddam had been “held to account”. Shadow Foreign Secretary William Hague said the verdict and sentencing were a matter for the Iraqi people, adding “they deserve the support of the international community in ensuring that the decisions reached by the court are respected”.
But former Foreign Office Minister Denis MacShane, the Rotherham MP, spoke for many when he welcomed the verdict but balked at the sentence.
“This is a man who is guilty of some of the worst crimes against humanity in human history,” he said.
“He’s been tried in a muslim court by Iraqis and the verdict I welcome but, being against capital punishment in principle, I urge the Iraqi Government not to sentence him to death.
“States take too many lives as it is, and I don’t think they need to take any more in cold blood.”
That call was taken up by human rights organisation Amnesty International, which said it “deplored” the sentence after a “flawed and unfair” trial.
Malcolm Smart, Director of the Middle East and North Africa programme, said: “This trial should have been a major contribution towards establishing justice and the rule of law in Iraq, and in ensuring truth and accountability for the massive human rights violations perpetrated by Saddam Hussein’s rule, “In practice, it has been a shabby affair, marred by serious flaws that call into question the capacity of the tribunal, as currently established, to administer justice fairly, in conformity with international standards.”
Many European nations also voiced opposition to the death penalty, including France, Italy, the Netherlands, Spain and Sweden, and a leading Italian opposition figure called on the continent to press for Saddam’s sentence to be commuted to life imprisonment.
There were also warnings from the Muslim world that highlighted the tensions facing allied forces in Iraq.
In Pakistan, the opposition religious coalition claimed American forces had caused more deaths in Iraq in the past three-and-a-half years than Saddam did during his 23-year reign, and insisted US president George W Bush should stand trial for war crimes.
“Who will punish the Americans and their lackeys who have killed many more people than Saddam Hussein?” asked Hafiz Hussain Ahmed, a senior lawmaker from the Mutahida Majlis-e-Amal coalition, which is critical of Pakistan’s military cooperation with the US.
Dr Muhammad Abdul Bari, secretary general of the Muslim Council of Britain,said: “There are concerns about whether Saddam Hussein was ever going to receive a fair trial in Iraq given the sectarian tension that are rife.
“Furthermore, there will be many in the Muslim world who will be asking when those responsible for launching the calamitous war in Iraq, in which tens of thousands on innocent people have died, will also be brought to justice.”
Those who had witnessed and personally suffered the cruelty of Saddam’s regime did not criticise the sentence.
Sarbast Karim was a 12-year-old primary school pupil in Hallabjah in 1988 when Saddam’s forces gassed about 5,000 Kurds, including women and children. Now, 30, he is settling into a new life in Hull.
He said: “I am happy. Generally, I am against the death penalty but Saddam is an exception. He is a wicked man, a murderer and he tried to destroy my people.
“I can still remember hearing the bombs and seeing the bodies. Even now there are babies born with defects and women having miscarriages. Hallabjah has not recovered.”
Hazhar Sultan, an Iraqi Kurd, fled to East Yorkshire seven years ago to escape Saddam’s henchmen.
“I am going to have the biggest party,” he said. “Saddam ruined my life. He killed my relatives and drove me from my homeland and now we have got justice. They should have hanged him when they found him.”
Saddam Hussein – sentenced to death for crimes against humanity after ordering the killing of 148 Shias in the village of Dujail in 1982.
Saddam’s half-brother Barzan Ibrahim and Awad Hamed al-Bandar, the head of Iraq’s former Revolutionary Court, are also sentenced to death by hanging for their part in the massacre.
Former Vice President Taha Yassin Ramadan convicted of murder and given a life term.
Fellow Baath Party officials Abdullah Kazim Ruwayyid, his son Mizhar Abdullah Ruwayyid and Ali Dayih Ali sentenced to 15 years in prison for torture and premeditated murder.
Mohammed Azawi Ali, another former party official, acquitted for lack of evidence.
Saddam still faces further trials over other alleged major atrocities.
Twists and bloody turns in trial full of drama
YESTERDAY’S death sentence marks the end in a series of dramatic and bloody twists which have hallmarked the trial of Saddam Hussein.
Although visibly shaken by the sentence, Saddam the showman still managed a dramatic outburst as the eyes of the world looked upon him.
The charges related to the killing of 148 Shiites in the village of Dujail in 1982. Saddam’s trial heard that he ordered the slaughter in revenge for an assassination attempt.
During one of his court appearances, a defiant Saddam said the proceedings were merely “theatre”.
The first criminal case against him was filed in June 2005. The trial got under way that October, with Saddam challenging the court’s legitimacy.
In October 2005, masked gunmen kidnapped defence attorney Saadoun al-Janabi after he left his Baghdad office. His body was found the next day with bullet holes in the head.
The next month, defence lawyer Adel al-Zubeidi was killed in a Baghdad ambush and a colleague, Thamir al-Khuzaie, was wounded. Mr Al-Khuzaie fled the country.
In November 2005, the trial reconvened following a five-week recess. Saddam called Americans “occupiers and invaders” and he and two other defendants complained about their treatment.
The following month, one of the five judges stepped down after learning that a Saddam co-defendant may have been involved in his brother’s execution.
The next day, defence lawyers walked out when denied the right to challenge the court’s legitimacy.
The ruling was then reversed and the former US Attorney General Ramsey Clark, a member of Saddam’s defence team, was permitted to speak.
In the same month Saddam refused to attend court. The previous day he had yelled: “I will not come to an unjust court! Go to hell!”
He also claimed Americans had beaten and tortured him and other defendants.
At the beginning of this year, chief judge Rizgar Amin, a Kurd, resigned after complaints by Shiite politicians that he had failed to keep control of proceedings.
He was replaced by Raouf Rasheed Abdel-Rahman – but Saddam’s lawyers accused him of bias and threatened to boycott the trial unless he also stepped down.
The judge’s home town of Halabja was subjected to a 1988 poison gas attack allegedly ordered by the former president.
In June this year defence lawyer Khamis al-Obeidi was abducted and killed and Saddam and three others refused food in protest at a lack of security for lawyers.
On the 17th day of his hunger strike, Saddam was taken to hospital and fed through a tube.
Ex-dictator would prefer firing squad to gallows
Saddam Hussein has been sentenced to death by hanging in an Iraqi court after being found guilty of crimes against humanity – but that is not the way the former dictator wants to die.
The Arab country’s law declares that death should be by hanging.
The fiery former leader has already said that he would rather be shot by a firing squad than face the gallows “as a common criminal”. Saddam told judge Rauf Abdel Rahman: “I ask you being an Iraqi person that if you reach a verdict of death, execution, remember that I am a military man and should be killed by firing squad.”
A request for the death penalty first came from chief prosecutor Jaafar al-Moussawi.
Now that that sentence has been served on Saddam – who has been on trial since October 19 2005 – his case will automatically go to appeal. It will be heard before a chamber of nine judges who have to convene within 10 days but could take several months to reach a conclusion. During the appeal process, the judges can call any person who gave evidence at the original trial but cannot call new witnesses.
If the judges agree that Saddam should be sentenced to death, the former leader will have to be executed within 30 days of that decision.
According to the New York Times, Saddam told his lawyer Khalil al-Dulaimi last week that he expected the death sentence and was not afraid to die.
But questions have been raised about the validity of the trial with accusations that the largely Shiite government was desperate to secure a conviction.
Yesterday, Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Maliki said he hoped the former leader would be given “what he deserves” and last month he said he hoped Saddam would be hanged.
To complicate things further, Saddam is currently being prosecuted in a second trial, which began in August.
The trial alleges acts of genocide involving the killing of more than 50,000 Iraqi Kurds in 1987-88.
It is not known what impact the death sentence will have on that trial, which is not expected to finish before next summer. But Shiite officials are said to want his execution to take place as early as the spring without waiting for the outcome of the second set of proceedings.
If the execution does go ahead, Saddam’s lawyer has predicted that “the doors of hell will open in Iraq” with severe repercussions on coalition forces, particularly the US. Mr al-Dulaimi said: “The sectarian divide in the country will deepen, and many more coffins will be sent back to America. “And the disaster will not be limited to Iraq. Hatreds will be sown between Americans and Arabs that will last for years.”
Brutality began in days… and lasted for decades
Days after he had grabbed power Saddam Hussein summoned 400 officials to announce he had uncovered a plot. The conspirators, he said, were in that very room.
As the 42-year-old puffed on a cigar, the plotters’ names were read out. As each was called, secret police led them away, executing 22. To make sure his countrymen got the message, Saddam videotaped the whole thing and sent copies around the country.
The plot was a lie, but in a few terrifying minutes on July 22, 1979, Saddam had eliminated any rivals – consolidating the power he wielded for almost three decades.
The brutality helped him survive war with Iran, defeat in Kuwait, rebellions, international sanctions, plots and conspiracies. In the end, however, it was his undoing. Saddam surrounded himself with sycophants, selected for loyalty rather than ability. When he was forced out, he left a country impoverished and beset by ethnic and sectarian tensions.
His conviction for crimes against humanity – and his sentencing to death by hanging – were just the latest, and perhaps one of the last, scenes in a long and bloody drama.
He ended up being dragged from a hole by American soldiers in December 2003, bearded, dishevelled and with his arms in the air.
Image and illusion were his important tools. He sought to build an image as an all-wise, all-powerful champion of the Arab nation. Yet his style was closer to a backwoods clan chief – giving favours in return for absolute loyalty while dealing harshly with detractors.
He promoted the illusion of a powerful Iraq – with the world’s fourth largest army and weapons of terrible destruction. Yet his army crumbled in weeks when confronted by the Americans and their allies in Kuwait in 1991. And in 2003, his capital of Baghdad fell to a single American task force.
Saddam’s weapons of mass destruction also proved a bluff. His scientists didn’t have the nerve to tell him that his dreams were beyond the country’s industrial capability. Instead, he squandered the money on vast palaces. It was a universe away from the harsh poverty he was born into, on April 28, 1937, in the village of Ouja near Tikrit. His father, a landless shepherd, died or disappeared before he was born. His stepfather, Ibrahim al-Hassan, treated Saddam harshly.
The young Saddam ran away and lived with an uncle, a staunchly anti-British, anti-Semitic figure whose daughter would become Saddam’s wife.
Aged 20, Saddam joined the Baath Party, a radical, secular Arab nationalist group. A year later, he fled to Cairo after taking part in an attempt to assassinate the country’s ruler and was sentenced to death in absentia.
Saddam returned four years later after the ruler was overthrown by his party. But the Baath leadership was itself ousted eight months later and Saddam was imprisoned. He escaped in 1967.
In July 1968 the Baath party came back to power under the leadership of Saddam’s cousin, Gen. Ahmed Hassan al-Bakr. Saddam – his deputy – systematically purged key party figures, deported thousands of Shiites and supervised the takeover of Iraq’s oil industry.
But when Al-Bakr decided in 1979 to seek unity with neighbouring Syria, Saddam forced his cousin out – and then purged his rivals. Hundreds more were killed in the following months.
Saddam went on to launch a war against Iran that would last for eight years, cost hundreds of thousands of lives and devastate Iraq’s economy. Saddam turned to the US, France and Britain for weapons, and they turned a blind eye when Saddam ruthlessly struck against Iraqi Kurds. An estimated 5,000 died in a chemical weapons attack on Halabja in March 1988.
Only two years after making peace with Iran, Saddam invaded Kuwait. The United Nations imposed sanctions, and in early 1991, a US-led coalition attacked in what Saddam famously called “the mother of all battles”.
The Iraqis were quickly driven out of Kuwait, but Saddam boasted that his political survival was proof that Iraq had won its war against America.
The war triggered uprisings among Iraq’s Shiites, but they were brutally crushed by Saddam. The Kurds, more lucky, carved out a self-ruled area in the north under US and British air cover.
The sanctions were not lifted because the US accused Saddam of retaining weapons of mass destruction and his refusal to meet UN demands for disclosure of his illegal weapons program provided the US-led coalition with a justification for war.
The American-led force struck on March 20, 2003. Within three weeks, Iraq’s army had collapsed, Baghdad had fallen and Saddam fled into hiding. In October 2005 he went on trial before an Iraqi judge.

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