Speeding up Saddam Hussein's trial
Saddam Hussein is scheduled to stand trial starting October 19th, more than 20 months after Americans arrested the former Iraqi leader. The trial will begin with Dujail, a town 35 miles north of Baghdad, where 143 people were killed by forces loyal to Saddam in 1982 in a reaction to an assassination attempt against Saddam. The former president will stand trial alongside 7 other defendants including his half-brother and former head of the Mukhabart secret police, the former prime minister, former Vice chairman of the Baath Party and the former chief judges of the revolution court.
After this trial, Saddam should face a series of more serious charges such as the killing of hundreds of thousands of people during the Al-Anfal campaign, which targeted Kurds in the North at the end of the 1988 war with Iran in an attempt to crush the Kurdish militias, or the killing of thousands of Shiites following a failed uprising in the South after the first Gulf war in 1991. The initial strategy in all these cases was to collect evidence and follow the chain of command, trying lower-ranking Baathist leaders first so as to gather a full range of evidence against Saddam. The question then arises, why is Saddam now being tried first, and in a relatively minor case?
The answer has to do with the inherently political nature of such a trial. The Iraqi Special Tribunal (IST) consists of three trial chambers with five judges each, nine appeal judges, fifteen examining magistrates and sixteen prosecutors. It is meant to be an independent court that does not report to anyone in the Iraqi government. It is supposed to apply its own laws and set its own calendar. But this independence has been hard to maintain.