Global Policy Forum

Money No Object for Dictator in the Mother of All Trials


By Ian Mather

December 12, 2004

One year ago tomorrow Saddam Hussein was found cowering in a ‘spider hole' - a bedraggled shadow of his former self. He is largely forgotten by ordinary Iraqis. The day-to-day-challenges of surviving in present-day Iraq have banished thoughts about the former dictator from their minds. But with his trial to be timed soon after next month's elections, money will be no object to the former president's legal team, who are being funded by the family millions.

The legal campaign to save the former Iraqi dictator is being run by Saddam's wife and three daughters. They are funding the campaign using aid cash for the Iraqi people stolen by the dictator in the dying hours of his regime. His wife, Sajida Khairallah Telfah, lives in Qatar with her youngest daughter, Hala. Saddam's other daughters, Raghad and Rana, have been granted political asylum in Jordan. From Amman, Raghad pays the bills and takes the lead, holding regular planning meetings with the legal team.

Only last month, Saddam's family fired the Jordanian head of the defence team, Mohammed Rashdan, amid bickering over his handling of the case and over money. Rashdan was accused of acting unilaterally by asking the Iraqi Lawyers' Association to deal with him as the sole lawyer representing Saddam. Rashdan retorted by accusing two other members of the team of misappropriating $270,000 that had been earmarked for Saddam's defence.

In March last year, just hours before the bombing of Iraq began, Saddam and his family took approximately $1bn from the Iraqi Central Bank, according to the US state department. Two men who arrived in trucks at the bank had a signed letter from Saddam authorising the removal of the money. A year later, the US general accounting office concluded that Saddam had stolen an estimated $10.1bn from the United Nations oil-for-food programme. The programme, itself the subject of a corruption investigation, was started in 1996 to allow Saddam's government to sell oil to purchase food, medicine and other humanitarian goods for the Iraqi people during the period of sanctions.

The US Treasury responded by freezing the assets of 16 family members related to Saddam and his top advisers. The list included Sajida and Saddam's other wife, Samira Shahbandar, who was his former mistress, as well as Raghad, Rana and Hala, and Ali, the son of Samira and Saddam.

But according to Ziad Al-Khasawneh, the spokesman for the legal defence team, the team does not receive "any donations from any individual or any party", except for sums paid by Raghad. The top priority of the new government will be to move swiftly to try the leaders of the former regime. As Saddam himself might put it, his will be the "mother of all trials".

The whole bloodthirsty story of oppression by the Ba'ath party regime run by Saddam will be revealed in detail during the trial. The US government is spending $75m on financing and overseeing the tribunal investigations, sifting through mounds of documents and providing training for the prosecutors, investigators and judges.

But the humiliated, supine Saddam who was dragged into the open a year ago will not be in court. Instead, we are almost certain to see the same swaggering bombastic Saddam who appeared at a hearing in July in Baghdad and denounced the proceedings as a "theatre".

Saddam will face at least seven charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity, including murdering rivals and politicians, gassing the Kurds in 1988, invading Kuwait in 1990 and suppressing Kurdish and Shi'ite uprisings in 1991. If convicted he faces the death penalty. But his resistance will be fierce, and he will have massive legal support. Defending him will be a team of 20 international lawyers, many from the West, backed up by another 1,500 volunteer lawyers - mostly from Arab countries.

Professor Michael Scharf, a US expert on international law who last week held a training session for judges and prosecutors in the case, believes the trial could last up to a year. The prosecution team fears Saddam will use similar tactics to those employed by former Yugoslav president Slobodan Milosevic at the Hague. Scharf came up with the tu quoque, or ‘you also' defence, that the coalition had committed similar crimes - a tactic used in the Nuremberg trials by Nazi senior officers.

Raghad, the mother of five children, and Rana, mother of three, live in official Jordanian government guesthouses and benefit from generous grants from the Jordanian government. Raghad works out several mornings a week at a smart ladies' gym, and is often seen in Amman's leading jewellery and clothes stores. Jordan, which has provided extensive banking support to Saddam and his family over the past 30 years, is happy to play host to high-level Iraqi exiles because of the money and business they attract. Amman has developed into an alternative Iraqi capital, and many foreign embassies avoid the dangers of Baghdad by having offices there.

However, the devotion of Raghad and Rana to their father is surprising, since Saddam ordered the murder of both their husbands. In 1995 the two sisters defected to Jordan with their husbands, both cousins of Saddam, who then disclosed details of Iraq's secret weapons programmes to the West. They were later lured back to Iraq, believing they had been pardoned, but were killed on Saddam's orders within 72 hours. The two daughters then lived under house arrest but were later reconciled with their father. "My life is a series of collapses," Raghad told a Saudi women's magazine recently. "If age is measured by anguish and sadness, I would have been 80 today. But despite this, my confidence hasn't wavered for a single day in God the Almighty."

The US refuses to say where Saddam is held, but he is believed to be in an American-guarded facility near Baghdad International Airport, along with other senior regime members. A Pentagon spokesman referred questions about his custody and trial to the interim government, and would add only that: "Although the Iraqi interim government has taken legal custody of Saddam and his aides, US forces have been holding them until Iraqis are ready to take control."

However, some details about his captivity have leaked. Last month an adviser to Iraqi prime minister Iyad Allawi told a Kuwaiti newspaper that Saddam was living "like a king" in American military custody in Iraq. George Sada, formerly an air force officer under Saddam, told Al-Qabas that the former Iraqi dictator's accommodation was "centrally air-conditioned" and that he was reading newspapers and watching television. "They prepare two kinds of food for him every day, Eastern and Western, and he eats what he chooses," Sada said. The menu included qouzi, which is lamb stuffed with rice, and masqouf, Iraqi-style grilled fish, Sada said, adding that the former dictator was living "better than the way he lived at the Republican Palace".

In September it was revealed that Saddam had been treated for an enlarged prostate gland, hernia problems and eye trouble. He refused a surgical biopsy to determine whether his prostate condition was cancerous. Last month Saddam was visited by the International Committee of the Red Cross, who reported he was in good health.

Saddam's lawyers have repeatedly accused the US of denying them access to their client. So far none of them has seen the deposed dictator. A first meeting should have taken place last week, but was abruptly cancelled, apparently because of US pressure on the special Iraqi tribunal.

Ziad Al-Khasawneh, a member of Saddam's legal team, said that the Iraqi Bar Association had obtained the court's permission for a defence lawyer to meet Saddam last Wednesday. "But the syndicate called the lawyer to say that the meeting had been indefinitely postponed," said al-Khasawneh. "The decision appears to have come from Iraq's real ruler, the United States of America." But Sada said that if Saddam had been handed to the Iraqis "they would have eaten him alive a long time ago".


A mass of legal talent will be on display to try to save the life of the former Iraqi dictator. His 20-strong international legal team based in Jordan has back-up from some 1,500 volunteer lawyers, mostly from Arab countries. The team includes Washington human rights lawyer Curtis Doebbler, professor of human rights law at the American University in Cairo and a former legal adviser to the Palestinian Authority, who represents detainees at Guantanamo Bay. On his website he says: "I ardently oppose American and more broadly Western neo-imperialism which is being imposed through the exploitation of the majority of the people of the world and the economic and military dominance of the United States."

Another team member is Giovanni Di Stefano, the Anglo-Italian businessman who claims to be a lawyer and is a controversial former director of Dundee FC, who through his firm, Studio Legale Internazionale, has also advised the former Yugoslav president Slobodan Milosevic on his prosecution for war crimes at the International Criminal Tribunal in The Hague.

Tim Hughes, a solicitor from Tiverton, in Devon, and a partner with the Bevan Ashford law firm, joined the team through his friendship with one of two French members, Emmanuel Ludot. A lawyer from Rheims, Ludot has teamed up with Jacques Verges, a veteran of controversial cases who defended Nazi war criminal Klaus Barbie and Carlos the Jackal.

Verges has made it clear that he will call Western leaders who backed the Saddam regime in the past, particularly during the 1980-1988 Iran-Iraq war, to take the witness stand.

Swiss barrister and academic Marc Henzelin, a lecturer at universities in Geneva and Hong Kong, specialises in international criminal law, and has represented the Iraqi-based Iranian mujahedin and also Saddam's nephews and nieces, whose Swiss bank accounts were frozen by the authorities.

There has been a rush of Arab lawyers volunteering to help Saddam. Most are working for nothing, but they will gain kudos from a high-profile case which is very popular in the Arab world.

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


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