Outside pressure said to jeopardize independence of court trying Saddam
BAGHDAD, Iraq – Mounting political pressure to speed up the trial of Saddam Hussein threatens the independence of the Iraqi special court trying the case, international observers warned Tuesday, a day after a brief second session.A U.S. official close to the tribunal said the court planned to streamline procedures when it reconvenes next week, including steps to prevent defense lawyers from using stalling tactics to delay the proceedings.The deposed leader and seven co-defendants are charged with ordering the killing of more than 140 people from the mainly Shiite Muslim town of Dujail north of Baghdad after an attempt on Saddam’s life there in 1982. If convicted, they face the death penalty.After a 2 1/2 hour session Monday, the tribunal adjourned until Dec. 5, only 10 days before Iraq’s parliamentary elections, to give the defense time to replace two lawyers who were assassinated and one who fled the country after the trial opened Oct. 19.The court needs to ensure legal maneuvers don’t slow the proceedings too much, the U.S. official told reporters on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the case and concern for security.From the outset, the Saddam trial looked certain to be weighed down by the divisions and violence of postwar Iraq.Iraq’s majority Shiites, together with minority Kurds, suffered the most under Saddam’s Sunni Arab-dominated regime. Shiite politicians, including Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari, have been publicly complaining the trial was moving too slowly and giving too much leeway to Saddam.There also have been street protests by Shiites demanding Saddam be executed. A senior Shiite politician last week said claims of human rights abuses by security forces against Sunni Arab detainees were designed to overshadow the crimes of Saddam, a Sunni.Nehal Bhuta, a lawyer with Human Rights Watch, said that while al-Jaafari’s government has not intervened directly in the court’s proceedings, it has done little to create a climate for a fair trial and has not come to the court’s defense in the face of criticism.”The danger is that its expressions of displeasure will affect the demeanor of the judges, who may eventually feel the heat,” he told The Associated Press.Another observer at the trial, Miranda Sissons of the International Center for Transitional Justice, spoke of the difficulties encountered by the court in the face of political pressure and public expectations.She said that was to be expected in a country where fairness and transparency in the court system have been missing for decades.”The Iraqi people don’t know what to expect from the court and seem to want justice done in a matter of hours,” she said. “That’s why it’s essential for the people of Iraq to understand the work of the court. You cannot expect them to support the court if the court doesn’t make a deliberate effort to inform them.”Ramsey Clark, who served as attorney general in the Johnson administration and is now an adviser to Saddam’s defense team and attended Monday’s hearing, also complained about the pressures on the court.”This case presents as great a challenge of the possibility of a fair trial as any you’re likely to see because the emotions are so intense,” he told the AP in Amman on his return from Baghdad.”The violence is ever present and widespread, people so desperate. The power, the political interests in it, the omnipresence of the United States behind every door, plus soldiers on the streets. There are real questions whether you can have a real trial,” he said.