A Comparison of Saddam, Milosevic Trials


By Dusan Stojanovic

Associated Press
October 20, 2005

Both Saddam Hussein and Slobodan Milosevic have displayed defiance in the courtroom, tangled with judges and proclaimed their innocence. But the two deposed strongmen are being tried in two very different ways: the former Iraqi leader in a U.S.-backed national court and the former Yugoslav president by a U.N. tribunal. And if the Milosevic trial is any measure, Iraqis' quest for justice could take years. Aside from the defiant behavior of Saddam and Milosevic at their opening trial sessions, the parallels between the judicial proceedings in Baghdad and The Hague, Netherlands, could be misleading. "Although Milosevic and Saddam may have similar personalities, and both don't recognize courts which are trying them, there is a vast difference over the legal proceedings against them," said Branislav Tapuskovic, a former court-appointed lawyer for Milosevic in The Hague. "The fact that the Baghdad court was set up by an interested party leads to worries that it is not impartial and raises fears of a show trial," Tapuskovic said.

Saddam pleaded not guilty to charges of murder and torture when his long-awaited trial opened Wednesday, with the one-time dictator arguing about the legitimacy of the court and scuffling with guards. The first session of Saddam's trial lasted about three hours, and the judge ordered an adjournment until Nov. 28, though a cancer-stricken prosecution witness will testify Sunday. The trial of Milosevic, who faces 66 war crimes counts for alleged offenses during the decade-long breakup of the former Yugoslavia, has been going off and on for more than three years, with no end in sight following frequent delays because of Milosevic's chronic heart problems.

"The case against Saddam focuses on a concrete event, while the charges against Milosevic are a bit vague and sometimes political," Tapuskovic said, pointing to another difference between the two trials. Saddam could face the death penalty if convicted for the 1982 massacre of nearly 150 Shiite Muslims in the town of Dujail.

The Hague court has no death penalty, and Milosevic could be sentenced to life in prison if found guilty. While Saddam grudgingly said: "I'm not guilty" after an argument with a judge Wednesday, Milosevic refused to enter a plea when his trial opened at the U.N. tribunal in February 2002. A three-judge panel had to enter a not guilty plea for Milosevic, who repeatedly questioned the legitimacy of The Hague tribunal, claiming it was established by his longtime enemy - the United States - to "unjustly" punish him and the Serbian people. Like Saddam on Wednesday, Milosevic repeatedly has addressed the judges as "the so-called court," and still refuses to say "prosecution," calling its representatives "the other side." Because he doesn't recognize the court, Milosevic, a law graduate who never practiced law, has refused to appoint a lawyer and is defending himself. Saddam has an attorney.

Another difference appears to be the determination of the Iraqi authorities to avoid a repetition of Milosevic's successful use of his trial to embarrass the prosecution by highlighting the involvement of the major powers in the conflict in former Yugoslavia. In contrast to the case against Milosevic, which consists of charges for crimes allegedly committed in Croatia, Bosnia and Kosovo, Saddam is being tried - thus far - on tightly focused charges. This will make it difficult for him to emulate Milosevic's expansive arguments, and the judges will likely prevent Saddam from introducing evidence of outside support for his policies during the 1980s because it would not be relevant to the charge he is facing.

Another similarity is a huge public interest in the country for the start of the two trials, and diverse reactions they have prompted among local supporters and opponents. The idea by a private television network to beam the Milosevic trial to Serbian households was meant to confront Serbs with the atrocities he allegedly masterminded. Years later, many are asking whether the initiative has backfired and actually increased Milosevic's approval ratings. "When I watched Saddam on trial yesterday, I almost saw Slobo," Belgrade law student Milica Petrovic said, referring to Milosevic by his nickname. "For the sake of the Iraqis, I wish their quest for justice is swifter than ours."

More Information on International Justice
More Information on the International Criminal Tribunal for Yugoslavia
More Information on the International Criminal Tribunal for Iraq
More Information on International Criminal Tribunals and Special Courts

FAIR USE NOTICE: This page contains copyrighted material the use of which has not been specifically authorized by the copyright owner. Global Policy Forum distributes this material without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes. We believe this constitutes a fair use of any such copyrighted material as provided for in 17 U.S.C íŸ 107. If you wish to use copyrighted material from this site for purposes of your own that go beyond fair use, you must obtain permission from the copyright owner.