Saddam Lawyer Murdered

Iraqi authorities found one of the lawyers representing Saddam Hussein and his half-brother Barzan Ibrahim al-Tikriti murdered earlier today. Gunmen dressed in police uniforms abducted Khamis al-Obeidi from his home and shot him to death just prior to the launch of the defense’s final arguments in Saddam’s trial:

One of Saddam Hussein’s main lawyers was shot to death Wednesday after he was abducted from his Baghdad home by men wearing police uniforms, the third killing of a member of the former leader’s defense team since the trial started some eight months ago.
Khamis al-Obeidi, an Iraqi who represented Saddam and his half brother Barzan Ibrahim in their trial, was abducted from his house Wednesday morning, said Saddam’s top lawyer, Khalil al-Dulaimi. His body was found on a street near the Shiite slum of Sadr City, police Lt. Thaer Mahmoud said.
Chief prosecutor Jaafar al-Moussawi confirmed that al-Obeidi had been killed, although he did not provide any details. A photo of al-Obeidi provided by police showed his face, head and shoulders drenched in his own blood.

Lawyers who flocked from Western nations to join Saddam’s legal team have received plenty of justified criticism, especially Ramsey Clarke, as genocidal ambulance chasers. However, Obeidi as an Iraqi upheld one of the fundamental tenets of fair justice: independent legal representation for all defendants to ensure an acceptable result. Obeidi took the job with some expectation of fame and fortune as well as an understanding that it would make him a target. He may or may not have been a dedicated Ba’athist — I truly do not know — but in the end he opted to participate in the nascent Iraqi justice system that wants to serve the people and not a dictator, and he paid for that choice with his life.
What a shame. Obeidi had an opportunity in the days ahead to offer some kind of argument for his client that would have at least been memorable, and probably historic. After having served the trial for as long as he had, he deserved at least that much for his efforts. As it is now, we will almost certainly see a suspension in the trial while the remaining defense team regroups and while the Iraqi interior ministry changes the security arrangements.
The people who assassinated Obeidi — there is no better word — are not acting for a better Iraq. One of the toughest disciplines to acquire in the collapse of a tyranny is patience for justice. For those victimized by Saddam’s genocidal actions over four decades of rule, the temptation to take vengeance on Saddam and anyone associated with him must be almost irresistable. Having seen the Iraqi justice system used as a tool for oppression for so long — after all, that’s the entire point of the Dujail indictments — they do not trust it to deliver justice to them now.
The Iraqis will need time to accept that the new representative government will deliver the justice they need and desire. That will take patience, not just for the Iraqis but also for the West as well. We must not wash our hands of the Iraqis but redouble our efforts to ensure that this promise gets delivered.

Saddam Trial Heading Into Final Arguments

The trial of Saddam Hussein has concluded its evidentiary phase and now has proceeded to final arguments. To no one’s great surprise, the prosecutors demanded the death penalty for Saddam and his co-defendants, while the defendants tried to disrupt the proceedings yet again:

The prosecutor asked for the death penalty for Saddam Hussein and two of his co-defendants, saying in closing arguments Monday that the former Iraqi leader and his regime committed crimes against humanity in a “revenge” attack on Shiite civilians in the 1980s.
The arguments brought the eight-month-old trial into its final phase. After Monday’s session, the court adjourned until July 10, when the defense will begin making its final summation.
Saddam, dressed in a black suit, sat silently, sometimes taking notes, as chief prosecutor Jaafar al-Moussawi delivered his arguments, listing the evidence against each of the eight defendants.
Concluding his remarks, al-Moussawi asked for the death penalty against Saddam, his half brother Barzan Ibrahim — the head of the Mukhabarat intelligence agency at the time — and Taha Yassin Ramadan, a former senior regime member. The method of execution is hanging.

The defense complained that the judges forced them to close their case prematurely, but the court had had enough of witnesses who failed to appear and those who did offering irrelevancies. Four witnesses found themselves under arrest for perjury, showing that the court had abandoned it earlier mollification of the dictatorship’s key figures and instead opted for judicial sanity.
Not all defendants got the call for hanging. The prosecutor recommended lighter sentences for a few of the defendants and called for the outright release of one, Mohammed Azawi Ali, due to a lack of evidence specific to the Dujail crimes. One defendant did not get a recommendation of sentencing: Awad al-Bandar, the man who ironically had no problem sentencing 148 Dujail men, women, and children to death. The prosecution called for his conviction but left out any recommendation for punishment.
The defense will take to the lectern later this week. Expect to hear plenty of political diatribes and calls for Iraqi uprisings against the newly elected government in their summation — and expect the tough judges to shut it down shortly afterwards.

Iraqi Judge Tires Of Saddam Defense Obstructionism

The presiding judge in the trial of Saddam Hussein castigated the defense attorneys for their repeated motions for dismissal as well as their inability to produce witnesses as promised. He angrily suspended the trial for a week to give the defense one last chance to organize themselves, and warned them against making allegations without substantiation:

The defendants have been accused of orchestrating the massacre of 148 people in retribution for a failed assassination attempt against Hussein in 1982. But defense attorneys pressed their claim Monday that at least 14 of those people were not killed. Some of the alleged victims are still alive and others died in the Iran-Iraq war, they said.
Judge Raouf Rasheed Abdel Rahman had little patience for their complaints. Nor was he pleased to find most defense witnesses scheduled to testify hadn’t shown up; lawyers said they were too scared to appear.
Abdel Rahman ordered the lawyers to produce documents proving that the alleged victims in the village of Dujayl weren’t really executed. In scathing tones, he also accused members of the defense of turning a judicial process into a political show and ordered them to bring a final list of witnesses by next Monday.
“How many times have you made this request?” he snapped when lawyers asked the court to call off the trial. “Frankly, you are not helping justice. All you care about is obstructing the work of the court. Focus on your defense and clearing the defendants.”

The judge railed against the only possible defense Saddam and his henchmen could possibly mount — a delay-and-distraction strategy that hoped to tire the world of the effort to convict the Iraqi dictator. No one disputes that Saddam committed terrible crimes during his decades as the tyrant of the Tigris. Estimates of the death toll of his genocidal attacks on Shi’ites and Kurds range from the low hundreds of thousands to several million, the latter by National Geographic.
The question remains as to whether a trial for his crimes can successfully conclude with all of these obstructionist tactics used by the attorneys, and so far the answer appears to be yes. Those who have convinced themselves of a basic injustice in hauling Saddam before this tribunal will never be convinced, of course, but the Ramsey Clarks of this world have made themselves irrelevant anyway. So far, the presiding judge has performed better than his predecessor in forcing the defense to actually work on the trial rather than use the dock as a launch platform for Saddam’s political rants. That was an easier task during the prosecution case, but as Judge Rahman showed yesterday, he will not shy from demanding focus during the defense case as well.
Saddam’s team has until Monday to produce their witnesses. If they have none, expect Rahman to declare the trial concluded and request closing arguments. Most telling will be if Saddam takes the stand himself. Although in a legal sense he would be foolish to do so — being guilty — in a political sense, it’s an opportunity that I predict he simply cannot resist. He presumes that his testimony will garner worldwide attention, perhaps even akin to OJ-trial status, with breathless updates and round-the-clock analysis. Perhaps. It’s really rather telling, though, that the Los Angeles Times appears to be the only major newspaper following the trial at all.

Saddam’s Kelo

The trial of Saddam Hussein resumed last night, and Saddam and his co-defendants continued presenting their defense witnesses. The new strategy for the defense is to transform the seizure and destruction of farms and orchards in Dujail not as an attempt at genocide, but instead as an economic redevelopment plan:

Witnesses for two Saddam Hussein co-defendants accused of taking part in a 1982 massacre of 148 people from Dujayl described the men as fair and merciful, and dismissed destruction of the village’s fields and orchards as an economic redevelopment project.
Defense witnesses denied that the defendants, former spy chief Barzan Ibrahim Hasan and Awad Hamed Bandar, former head of Hussein’s Revolutionary Court, took part in the massacre — even as they acknowledged that they had little direct information about the Dujayl incident.
Prosecutors say the two defendants led a retaliatory purge against the predominantly Shiite Muslim residents of Dujayl after an assassination attempt on Hussein during a visit there.

The witnesses failed to impress, on many levels. They could not remember key details of the supposed project, nor could they identify the people who ran it. None of them could substantiate how they came across this information, most of which was hearsay. However, a couple of them made sure to announce their fealty to Saddam Hussein, toadying up to the former dictator by offering greetings to his family. One of them announced during his testimony that “I would die for you! I would die for you, president!”
Credibility, one must presume, was not high on the list of qualifications for defense witnesses.
This does give a peek into the twisted mindset of a brutal dictatorship. In the culture Saddam imposed, where 148 people (including children) could be executed in reprisal for one attempted assassination, the genocidal act of destroying the means of subsistence for an entire community might look like economic development. At least, if the dictator calls it that, few people would have dared to disagree after seeing what happened in Dujail …. which was the entire point of the exercise.

Saddam The Populist

The defense continued today at the trial of Saddam Hussein, but not without a stern warning from the chief judge about courtroom dramatics. That did not keep Saddam from once again challenging the court’s authority, although more briefly this time than before, but it did keep the defense attorneys from engaging in hysterics:

Chief judge Raouf Abdel-Rahman opened the session with a sharp warning to the defense lawyers and eight defendants that he would not allow insults to the court. In the previous session, Abdel-Rahman threw out a woman defense lawyer when she tried to speak after he warned her not to.
“From the beginning, we have said that this court is a transparent one and the defense team and defendants are allowed to express their attitude in a democratic way. No one is allowed, whoever he is and under any name, to attack the court, its employees and the Iraqi people,” he said.

The defense immediately tested that resolve when Saddam’s fellow defendant and half-brother Barzan Ibrahim Hassan al-Takriti stood up and complained that the judge was being too harsh on the defendants and their attorneys. He scolded Abdel-Rahman for failing to understand the scope of the case and for insulting a woman, an attorney he had bodily removed earlier this week when she refused to stop disrupting the trial. Abdel-Rahman warned Barzan to stop once, which Barzan ignored — until the guard entered the dock, when the defendant sat down.
However, Saddam popped up himself at this point:

“Do you want to shut people’s mouths this way?” Saddam spoke up from him seat.
“Quiet. You are a defendant,” Abdel-Rahman yelled.
“I am Saddam Hussein, your president, and you did elect me,” Saddam shouted back.

Saddam must be referring to two plebescites he conducted during the final years of his dictatorship, when he won election by 99.2% and 100% of the vote, respectively. I had no idea Saddam set such a store by elections; after all, he came to power in an armed coup and consolidated his power through a bloody purge. In fact, Saddam was so popular that he ran unopposed in those two elections. Well, not quite; officially, the choices for voters — who were watched while they cast their votes — were either Saddam Hussein or Death To You And Your Entire Family. Since the 0.8% who cast their votes for the latter the first time apparently no longer existed on the voter rolls for the second election, Saddam’s unanimous victory was a foregone conclusion.
The defense called Tariq Aziz to the stand once the histrionics ceased. It’s unclear why Saddam’s team wants to have Aziz speak about Dujail, and the AP does not include any of his testimony. They do report that Aziz is in poor health, and his family wants him released so that he can seek medical attention elsewhere. I’m sure they must have gotten that idea from the regime Aziz served and helped run. After all, one has to believe that the torturers and the rapists in Saddam’s jails always allowed their victims to be released to seek medical attention during their “investigations”.
UPDATE: The AP has updated the story at the same link, and Aziz has some problems getting his story straight. On one hand, he testified that the defendants had nothing to do with the Dujail atrocity, arguing that it fell to lower-level functionaries to handle the aftermath of the assassination attempt. On the other hand, he also testified that the regime had to strike back at the town for the insult to Saddam, and told the court the victims should be on trial now:

A former Iraqi foreign minister and deputy prime minister testified for the defense in Saddam Hussein’s trial, saying the regime had to strike back with a crackdown on a Shiite town after a 1982 assassination attempt on the former Iraqi leader. …
He turned the accusations around, saying members of the Shiite Dawa Party — which carried out the shooting attack on Saddam — should be put on trial. He pointed to Dawa leaders who, since Saddam’s fall, have become leaders of Iraq’s first elected governments: current prime minister Nouri al-Maliki and his predecessor, Ibrahim al-Jaafari.
Speaking in a hoarse voice, he said the Dujail attack was “part of a series of attacks and assassination attempts by this group (Dawa), including against me.” He said that in 1980, Dawa activists threw a grenade at him as he visited a Baghdad university, killing civilians around him.
“I’m a victim of a criminal act conducted by this party, which is in power right now. So put it on trial. Its leader was the prime minister and his deputy is the prime minister right now and they killed innocent Iraqis in 1980,” he said.

In other words, Saddam’s signature on 148 execution orders has no significance to the case, but the fact that the Dawas back then tried to assassinate Saddam means that anyone associated with the Dawas should be tried now. That makes sense — under Saddam’s notions of justice. One has to wonder why, if Aziz and Saddam believe that al-Maliki and al-Jafaari were responsible for the assassination attempts, did they execute 148 men, women, and children from Dujail instead?

‘I Am Above All’

The trial of Saddam Hussein resumed this morning, with fireworks launched from the start. The presiding judge had a defense attorney bodily thrown out of the courtroom after readmitting her moments before, and Saddam earned himself a sharp rebuke after proclaiming the court beneath him:

The squabble began when chief judge informed defense lawyer Bushra Khalil that she would be allowed to return to the court after being removed from a session in April for arguing with the judge. But when she tried to make a statement, he quickly cut her off, saying, “Sit down.”
“I just want to say one word,” she said, but Abdel-Rahman yelled at guards to take her away. Khalil pulled off her judicial robe and threw it on the floor in anger, then tried to push the guards who were grabbing her hands, shouting, “Get away from me.”
As she was pulled out of the court, Saddam objected from the defendants’ pen, and Abdel-Rahman told him to be silent.
“I’m Saddam Hussein, president of Iraq. I am above all,” Saddam shouted back.
“You are a defendant now, not a president,” the judge barked.

This is the reason that defense attorneys do not like having their clients testify in court; one never knows what they will say. In this case, Saddam’s statement revealed his attitude about himself and his relation to Iraqis since the first day of his rule. No one ever doubted that Saddam considered himself “above all”, and no one doubted that Saddam did everything he could to make that statement true. Mass graves and uncountable victims of torture and rape attest to that fact.
The testimony continued to prove that after the courtroom disruptions ceased. The defense started its presentation with Murshid Mohammed Jassim, an employee of the Revolutionary Court. Jassim testified that the judge in the Dujail case, now defendant Awad al-Bandar, was a fair and just man. However, Jassim did not work for the court in 1984 when the 148 Dujail residents — including children — all received death sentences in reprisal for the assassination attempt on Saddam. He also did not explain that Saddam’s prosecutors managed to get 148 confessions before trial, and that the trial of 148 people only lasted 16 days.
Western observers might wonder how one court could convict nine people a day for 16 days. Saddam has helpfully explained it to us: Saddam was “above all”, and his diktat was the law during his brutal reign. It may be the most honest testimony Saddam will ever give.

Saddam Faces More Charges

The trial of Saddam Hussein resumes today, but before the proceedings started the court charged Saddam with even more crimes stemming from his efforts against the Iraqi Shi’a in Dujail. Saddam refused to enter a plea on charges that he tortured and killed hundreds of men, women, and children in punishment for the aborted Shi’ite uprising:

Saddam Hussein refused to enter a plea at his trial on Monday after he was formally charged with ordering the killing and torture of hundreds of Shi’ite villagers, telling the judge he was still Iraq’s president.
The detailed charges read out by Judge Raouf Abdel Rahman stemmed from the killing of 148 Shi’ites after an attempt on Saddam’s life in 1982 in the village of Dujail.
The ousted president was accused of ordering the killing and torture of hundreds in the village, including women and children, and that he sent helicopters and planes to pound Dujail, north of Baghdad.
Wearing a dark suit and white shirt, Saddam smiled as he listened to the charges, holding a Koran in his left hand.
“This statement cannot influence me or shake a hair of my head. What matters to me is the Iraqi people and myself,” Saddam said. “I am president of Iraq by the will of the Iraqi people.”
Replying the judge said: “You were, but not now.”

Saddam starts his defense today, and observers expect his attorneys to indulge every conspiracy theory possible in an attempt to convince the Iraqi people, if not the court, that their former oppressor has been unfairly prosecuted. Rumors have it that the defense will try to subpoena prominent Americans to testify to their relationship with the Saddam regime, including Donald Rumsfeld. None of this will have any rational connection to the murders in Dujail, one of the reasons that the court limited itself to specific charges regarding specific incidents rather than a blanket indictment for war crimes, atrocities, and genocide.
It will prove a serious test for Saddam’s defense team. The court will likely put severe restrictions on the speculation and distracting topics they want to raise. Somehow they will have to make themselves entertaining enough while providing some sort of rational connection to the specific charges to keep the court from simply shutting off their microphones. During the prosecution, Saddam and his team could just be disruptive. Now they have to say something substantive other than the already-tired mantra that Saddam remains Iraq’s president, a moot point for everyone else but the erstwhile dictator.
If Saddam does pursue this strategy, it will likely increase the Western media interest in this case by an order of magnitude. Given the rare opportunity to watch a formerly oppressed people put their former dictator on trial in a fair and equitable legal proceeding, the Western media has mostly yawned. It has failed to report on the witnesses and documentary evidence that has damned Saddam for his role in murders, tortures, and genocide. However, if Saddam starts talking about Donald Rumsfeld and Dick Cheney in derogatory terms, they will be there to record every syllable for posterity.

Saddam’s Trial Strategy Looks Familiar

Today marks my return to the pages of the Daily Standard with a column reviewing the recent Media Research Center’s analysis of broadcast network coverage of the Saddam Hussein trial. Saddam has had better luck with the Goering Gambit than did Hermann Goering himself, thanks to the hopelessly misdirected priorities of the Big Three’s news divisions:

If Saddam has calculated that the Goering gambit will work better for him, he may be right. Saddam is betting that his disruptions will play better than the evidence and testimony of genocide, which is so lacking in entertainment value. According to a study performed by the Media Research Center (MRC), the media is playing right into Saddam’s strategy. After reviewing the coverage provided by the three American broadcast networks, MRC calculated that less than twenty percent of the news coverage reported on evidence, testimony, and the background of the case–when they could be bothered to cover the trial at all …
Saddam has played his hand well, but he has one advantage that Goering never had–an American media so poorly managed that it easily lends itself to this kind of manipulation. The trial has shown detailed evidence and produced compelling testimony to support the charges against Saddam–Saddam even admitted that he had ordered the executions of 148 residents of Dujail, though only ABC thought this worthy of complete coverage. That confession received only eighteen seconds of coverage at CBS, though that still managed to more than double NBC’s paltry 7 seconds.
Can anyone wonder why the American public mistrusts the mainstream media?

I covered this briefly a week ago or so when the MRC first published the study, but I discuss it at more length in this article. The superficial coverage granted to this historically momentous trial should not only embarrass the networks but also points out how irrelevant they have become to true news reporting. Hoisting Katie Couric atop the CBS ship will not keep it from sinking — it will only make the denouement more entertaining.

Media Complicit In Saddam’s Trial Strategy

The strategy adopted by Saddam Hussein for his trial on crimes against humanity that stem from his decades-long tyranny over Iraq has always been clear — he planned on diverting attention from the crimes and the evidence and focus the world on his political rants from the dock. He’s playing out the Goering strategy, unmindful of Goering’s failure with it. Unfortunately for us, the media has played into Saddam’s strategy, according to a study performed by the Media Research Center. After reviewing the coverage provided by the three American broadcast networks, MRC calculated that less than twenty percent of the news coverage reported on evidence, testimony, and the case background … when they could be bothered to cover the trial at all:

Saddam’s trial has been mentioned in just 64 stories (including brief anchor-read items) over the last 5 months. Total coverage amounted to just under 90 minutes. The CBS Evening News offered the most coverage (21 stories, 34 minutes) followed by ABC’s World News Tonight (23 stories, 30 minutes). NBC Nightly News aired the least: 20 stories amounting to 25½ minutes of coverage, barely five minutes per month.
In contrast, the first six months of O.J. Simpson’s murder trial garnered 431 stories (824 minutes) from those same networks, a 1994 Center for Media and Public Affairs study found. Simpson was accused of killing two people; Saddam is thought responsible for hundreds of thousands of deaths.

Of the ninety minutes of total broadcast-network air time dedicated to Saddam’s trial over the past six months, only 11.5 minutes focused on actual testimony and evidence. By contrast, the Big Three spent 12 minutes discussing the difficulties of providing the genocidal tyrant a fair trial. Saddam’s courtroom disruptions have accounted for a third of the news coverage of his trial, accounting for thirty of the ninety minutes. That means that about half of the coverage (42 of 90 minutes) given by the networks have been devoted to Saddam’s strategy of diversion and concern over his treatment by the victims of his oppression.
It isn’t that the trial has shown no evidence or produced no testimony to support the charges against Saddam. Saddam even admitted that he had ordered the executions of 148 Dujail residents — an admission only reported in full by ABC. That confession received 18 seconds of coverage at CBS, which still managed to beat NBC by seven seconds.
The trial of a dictator like Saddam Hussein by his victimized people is history in the making. Cable news shows should have panel discussions every day poring over the evidence presented. The trial gives the world an opportunity to understand the scope and brutality of the Saddam regime. Our media instead talks about Saddam’s love of Cheetohs, Ramsey Clark’s complaints about Saddam’s treatment, and the tyrant’s utterly predictable and unremarkable political observations.
No wonder we hold journalists in such low esteem.

Saddam Personally Ordered Chemical Attack On Kurds

The Scotsman reports on a key piece of evidence that ties Saddam Hussein directly to the disgusting genocide of Kurds in Halabja almost twenty years ago. Memos from his personal secretary to military leaders make clear that Saddam wanted to use chemical weapons on Kurdish positions in 1987:

SADDAM Hussein ordered plans to be drawn up for a chemical weapons attack on Kurdish guerrilla bases in northern Iraq in 1987, according to a letter signed by his personal secretary. …
The planned attack appears to have been part of the 1987-88 campaign that left more than 180,000 Kurds dead and demolished hundreds of Kurdish villages in northern Iraq. In the most notorious incident, the town of Halabja was bombed with mustard and nerve gas in 1988, killing 5,000 residents.
In the papers released by the US, a report from Iraq’s military intelligence details the bases of Kurdish rebels, led by Ibrahim Barzani, and Iranian troops.
Saddam’s secretary replies, saying, “The leader Mr President has ordered that your department study with experts a surprise attack with special ammunition in the areas of Barzani’s gangs and the [former Iranian leader Ayatollah] Khomeini Guards.”
“Special ammunition” is the phrase used throughout Saddam’s regime for chemical weapons. Later documents mention specifically the nerve agent sarin and mustard gas.

One wonders how Saddam would respond to this. Regarding Dujail, he has claimed that the processes used to massacre the residents of the small town as a reprisal for an assassination attempt were legal under Iraqi law, a claim that has done little to slow his prosecution. For Halabja, observers widely predicted that his defense would claim ignorance of the attack until after it had already taken place — a sort of reverse Nazi defense of “I didn’t give the orders”. This new evidence clearly shows that he gave those orders before, and probably on many other occasions, against the Iranians during their eight-year war as well as against his own people.
It’s fashionable these days to claim that the Iraqis were better off under Saddam than after his liberation, given the civilian death toll from the fight against the insurgents. Some claim that over 100,000 Iraqis have died since the invasion, although the methodology for those calculations has been highly suspect. In two years, Saddam killed over 180,000 Kurds just for being Kurds, and destroyed their homes, forcing them to live in the hills to survive — and that doesn’t count the hundreds of thousands of Marsh Arabs, Shi’a, and even Sunnis who died either in droves in reprisals for suspected disloyalty or individually as Saddam and his henchmen desired. This letter reminds us that Iraqis and the world have all benefitted from the removal of this sick, twisted dictator.