With Hussein Gone, Other Iraqi Trials Lose Impact

With Hussein Gone, Other Iraqi Trials Lose Impact
May 17th, 2007  
Team Infidel

Topic: With Hussein Gone, Other Iraqi Trials Lose Impact

With Hussein Gone, Other Iraqi Trials Lose Impact
New York Times
May 17, 2007
By John F. Burns
BAGHDAD, May 16 — When the man Iraqis know as Chemical Ali made a final plea of innocence to the Iraqi High Tribunal last week, the court’s public galleries were all but empty, and there was not a single Iraqi or foreign reporter on hand.
Ali Hassan al-Majid, Saddam Hussein’s cousin, was once the most feared man in Iraq after Mr. Hussein himself. Mr. Majid earned his grim sobriquet for his role as the overseer of the so-called Anfal campaign of the late 1980s, in which tens of thousands of Iraqi Kurds were killed, many of them in poison gas attacks.
Yet by the final day of testimony at his nine-month trial, Mr. Majid and five fellow defendants, facing possible death sentences, were figures in what in effect was a sideshow. After Mr. Hussein was hanged on Dec. 30 in a previous case, the Anfal case lost its principal defendant, and with him much of the courtroom uproar that fascinated Iraqis in the 13 months that Mr. Hussein spent in the dock.
Deprived of the example set by Mr. Hussein, who harangued judges and used the courtroom as a forum for attacking Iraq’s American “occupiers,” Mr. Majid and his co-defendants became more compliant. They listened more attentively to prosecution evidence, raised legal points and acted more like men on trial for their lives than as defiant legatees of an ousted government.
In one crucial respect, however, they remained true to Mr. Hussein: Like him, they pleaded innocent of any involvement in atrocities in the Anfal offensives, which took their name, at Mr. Hussein’s direction, from an Arabic word meaning “spoils of war.” In closing pleas, they said they had nothing to do with the chemical attacks, village demolitions, deportations, torture and mass executions of men, women and children that Kurdish survivors described in excruciating detail in 59 days of testimony.
For Mr. Majid, in particular, the plea seemed hard to sustain in face of prosecution evidence, which included documents linking him to the repression, and a stunning series of tape recordings in which Mr. Hussein and Mr. Majid were heard discussing plans for the use of chemical weapons against the Kurds. Prosecutors said that at least 50,000 Kurds died in a series of eight Anfal offensives in 1987 and 1988.
Still, the 61-year-old Mr. Majid, who was assigned by Mr. Hussein to head the Baath Party’s “northern bureau” in Mosul in 1987 and given plenary powers for the Anfal campaign, protested that he knew nothing about the poison gas attacks. “I never issued an order for the use of these weapons; I never heard of them being used; and I have no knowledge of who used them, if in fact they were used,” he said.
Whether Mr. Majid’s plea will carry any weight with the five-judge panel seems doubtful. The court, established under the close tutelage of the American Justice Department in 2004, has come under increasing pressure from Iraq’s new rulers, led by the Shiite and Kurdish officials who dominate in the government of Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki.
Pressure from Mr. Maliki’s office led to the replacement of the first chief judge in the Anfal trial, after he told Mr. Hussein in the opening days of the trial last fall that he could not be described as “a dictator.” And it was Mr. Maliki who insisted, in the face of American protests, on carrying out the execution of Mr. Hussein only five days after an appeals court upheld his death sentence in the so-called Dujail trial, which centered on the executions of 148 Shiite men and boys after an abortive assassination attempt against Mr. Hussein in 1982.
Three other former officials were also hanged for their role in the Dujail repression. One, Taha Yassin Ramadan, a former vice president, was sentenced to life imprisonment by the trial court, but the appeals chamber, under government pressure, sent the verdict back to the trial court with a finding that Mr. Ramadan should be hanged. The trial chamber quickly complied.
After the judges adjourned the Anfal trial, court officials predicted a date in mid-June for sentencing, and predicted that any death sentences would be carried out by midsummer. The other defendants are former Gen. Sultan Hashim Ahmed, northern military commander at the time of the Anfal attacks; Sabid Abdul Aziz al-Douri, chief of Mr. Hussein’s military intelligence service; Farhan al-Jubouri, military intelligence chief in northern Iraq; former Gen. Hussein Rashid, the Iraqi Army’s deputy operations chief; and Taher Tawfiq al-Aani, Mr. Majid’s assistant as secretary of the northern bureau. All are charged with war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide.
Court officials have said that they envision several more trials, including a series of cases that will center on the Shiite uprising against Mr. Hussein after Iraqi forces were driven from Kuwait in 1991. Shiite leaders say as many as 150,000 people were killed during the uprising, many of them lined up at mass graves in the desert and shot.
But already, after only two trials, there are questions about how far Iraq’s new Shiite-dominated government can carry the process of holding Hussein-era officials to account. American financing for the court has been reduced. And with Mr. Hussein dead, interest in the process among Iraqis, and beyond Iraq, has dwindled.
With tens of thousands of dead since the American invasion, and almost every day punctuated by the mass killings caused by roadside bombs and suicide attacks, the horrors of the Hussein era, in the minds of many Iraqis, have receded before the chaos that has ensued.
Mr. Majid and his co-defendants have not abandoned courtroom theatrics altogether. Several of the defendants, including Mr. Majid, appeared for the final testimony in the traditional Arab garb of dishdasha robe, kaffiyeh headdresses and black rope headbands that have been an emblem of patriotic defiance in the court for former officials who rarely appeared in anything but the military-style uniforms of the Baath Party while they were still in power.
And Mr. Majid was concerned enough about a possible death sentence that he coupled his protestation of innocence with a fallback argument based in the cruel realpolitik of the Hussein era that seemed to acknowledge, if only obliquely, that harsh punishments had been ordered against the Kurds.
“Thanks be to God, what took place in Kurdistan in 1987 and 1988 only happened after the Iranians invaded Iraq and occupied an area the size of Lebanon, so the state had to do what it did,” he said.
The reference was to the eight-year war between Iraq and Iran, ending in 1988, in which Kurdish guerrillas known as pesh merga allied themselves with Iranian forces against Iraq. It was this that the man identified by prosecutors as Mr. Hussein in the tape recordings of high-level meetings in Baghdad that were played in the court cited as cause for using chemical weapons, along with confident assurances to his associates that the weapons would “kill thousands.”
In their closing pleas, several defendants resorted to what legal experts at the trial described the tactic as a “Nuremberg defense,” a reference to Nazi leaders who pleaded at their trials after World War II that atrocities of which they were accused were carried out under orders.
With Mr. Hussein gone from the court, the Anfal defendants argued that any actions they took were not their responsibility, but the result of following orders from Baghdad — in effect, from Mr. Hussein — and that they would have been summarily executed if they had demurred.
Mr. Hashim, the 57-year-old former general, who served as defense minister during the American-led invasion in 2003, adopted a pleading tone as he made his final remarks. “As a soldier, if I receive an order from my superiors to undertake a specific mission, what option do I have?” he said. “Let any fair person tell me that. There are no options one, two or three, only the choice to implement the order, or not to implement it — and if I’d made that choice, it would have been the end of me.”

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