Media: The Associated Press
Byline: By QASSIM ABDUL-ZAHRA
Date: 03 October 2006
BAGHDAD, Iraq_The Iraqi court trying Saddam Hussein announced Tuesday the
postponement of the verdict in his trial to give the judges more time to
review evidence, amid widespread worries over the decision's impact at a
time of sharp Shiite-Sunni divisions in Iraq.
The court had been expected to announce its verdict Oct. 16, when it
reconvenes for the first time since July 27, when nine months of testimony
Court spokesman Raid Juhi told the Associated Press that the Oct. 16 session
will be held, but "will not be for the verdict. It's for the judges' review
of the evidence."
Juhi said he could not say when the verdict would be issued, but the review
raised the possibility the judges could ask to recall some witnesses or seek
new testimony on some pieces of evidence.
A court official, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not
allowed to release the information, said the verdict could be put off until
late October or early November.
Saddam and his co-defendants face possible execution by hanging if found
guilty on charges against humanity over a crackdown on Shiites in the town
of Dujail launched in 1982.
But any verdict raises the possibility of a violent reaction by either side
amid the deepening sectarian tensions that have torn Iraq. Thousands have
been killed in Shiite-Sunni violence this year.
That fear is in sharp contrast to the United States' original hopes for the
trial _ that it would serve as a way to heal Iraq's divisions by bringing
out the truth about Saddam's regime and helping reconciliation between
Sunnis and Shiites.
But there has been little healing during the stormy trial. A death sentence
could anger Sunnis and fuel the three-year-old insurgency, while anything
short of execution would enfuriate Shiites.
Many Sunnis remain convinced the tribunal is merely a show trial put on by
the now dominant Shiites, backed by the Americans, to take vengeance against
the former Iraqi leader. Minority Sunnis were dominant under Saddam but lost
power to Shiites, who comprise some 60 percent of Iraq's population, after
the U.S.-led invasion in 2003.
Meanwhile, Shiites and the minority Kurd community _ both persecuted under
Saddam _ have been eager to see Saddam taken to the gallows,
A guilty verdict for Saddam is widely expected _ but the court official
suggested that there were differences over how heavy a sentence to impose.
"If a verdict for the heaviest sentence comes, the (Sunni) violence may
increase in reaction. If the sentence is less, it will be a disaster,
angering (Shiite) political parties and the street," said the official.
The longer review of the evidence is intended to ensure that the final
verdict _ which will be accompanied by a report explaining the reasoning in
detail _ "is complete, that no one can put holes in it," he said.
Juhi did not link the delay to worries over tensions in Iraq. He said the
judges have been reviewing the evidence and testimony from the trial to
determine "whether it is complete or is lacking."
If they decide it is lacking, they could call back witnesses or review other
evidence. Juhi would not say whether he believed this would likely happen.
"It is up to the judges to issue a decision on this," Juhi said.
Saddam and his co-defendants have the opportunity for appeal of any verdict.
The Dujail trial, which began Oct. 19, is the first for Saddam. A second
trial of the former Iraqi leader and six other co-defendants began Aug. 21
on genocide charges for their alleged roles in a bloody 1987-1988 crackdown
against Kurdish rebels.
It was adjourned last week until Oct. 9 after a stormy session during which
the chief judge expelled all of the defendants.
Earlier in the week, Chief Judge Mohammed Oreibi al-Khalifa had replaced the
previous chief judge, who was accused of being too soft on the former
Saddam's attorneys responded by boycotting the proceedings, and al-Khalifa
put the trial on hold in order to give Saddam and the other defendants time
to convince their lawyers to end the boycott or to confer with new ones.
The Dujail trial was equally stormy, with frequent outbursts by Saddam and
his top co-defendant, former intelligence chief Barzan Ibrahim.
The trial heard extensive testimony from Shiite survivors of the crackdown,
recounting torture while in prison and the deaths of loved ones. The
crackdown was sparked by a 1982 assassination attempt on Saddam by Shiite
Hundreds of Dujail residents were arrested, some tortured to death, and 148
Shiites were sentenced to death for involvement in the attempt to kill
Saddam. The prosecution argued that they were executed after a fake trial
and that the crackdown aimed to punish the entire town.
The main evidence against Saddam were a series of documents signed by him _
the order for the 148 to be put on trial, the approval of their death
sentences and an approval of rewards for several intelligence officers
involved in the crackdown.
The defense argued that the crackdown was justified in response to the
assassination attempt _ a feeling shared by many Sunnis. They also argue
that the documents don't add up a crime against humanity since Saddam was
performing his constitutional role in ordering suspects put on trial, then
signing off on the verdict against him.