Global Policy Forum

Court Rules Could Allow US to


Washington Could Invoke Security Rule to Prevent Public Embarrassment

By Andrew Walker

Index on Censorship
November 2, 2005

Trial rules in place for the court convened to try Saddam Hussein for crimes against his own people could be closed off to the public eye by order of Washington, if the deposed dictator tries to reveal information that the US considers security-sensitive. Andrew Walker reports.

The rules governing the Supreme Iraqi Criminal Tribunal where Saddam Hussein is facing charges of crimes against humanity also allow "sovereign nations" to close the court to the public if they feel that evidence being heard could harm their "national security". The rule could allow the Bush administration to shut off the proceedings to protect itself from accusations of complicity with Saddam and the Ba'ath party during the 1980s, a British academic and Iraq specialist has said.

Dr Charles Tripp pointed out rule 71 of the rules and procedures governing the Supreme Iraqi Criminal Tribunal. Paragraph 3 reads: "If in the opinion of another sovereign state, disclosure of information would prejudice its national security, reasonable steps, including closed sessions, will be taken by the chamber to ensure that legitimate national security interests of the State are not prejudiced."

Speaking at London's School of Oriental and African Studies on 1 November Dr Tripp said: "These rules seem to be designed by the Americans to protect against any embarrassing information coming out of the court. Even if the Iraqis decide that there is not sufficient grounds for closing the court, the ‘sovereign nation' can appeal." All proceedings of the court would be suspended until the appeal was settled, documents placed on the Website of the Iraqi Special Tribunal confirmed.

The Supreme Iraqi Criminal Tribunal (formerly known as the Iraqi Special Tribunal) is an Iraqi court established to try former government officials. Five Iraqi judges make up the trial court. The prosecutors and principal defense lawyers are Iraqi. The tribunal has the authority to try Iraqis for grave crimes such as genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity. Funded mostly by the US government, says Human Rights Watch, the court will try some of the most notorious human rights violations that took place under the previous government - including the poison gas attacks against Iraqi Kurds and the brutal suppression of the 1991 rebellion in the south.

Saddam Hussein and seven other former Iraqi officials are being tried for crimes that took place in the town of al-Dujail in 1982. Government security forces allegedly killed more than 140 individuals from al-Dujail in retaliation for an assassination attempt on Saddam Hussein as his motorcade passed through the town.

Dr Tripp, author of A History of Iraq, added that the defense counsel had been named on the website of the court, while the judges, magistrates and prosecutors had been granted anonymity. This opened them up to attacks by insurgents, he added. After the meeting he said: "I can understand the logic of anonymity, but the defense council has said that they should have been granted anonymity in order to protect them from people who loath Saddam. The court officials said that the defense team was offered anonymity but they refused, which seems a bit unlikely to me. The defence team were named on the website of the Special Iraqi Criminal Tribunal." One of Saddam's lawyers, Saadoun Janabi, was kidnapped and killed on 21 October.

To ensure justice for hundreds of thousands of Iraqi victims and their families, the trials of Saddam Hussein and other former Iraqi officials must be fair, says Human Rights Watch. "For nearly two decades, we have called for Saddam Hussein and his henchmen to be brought to justice," said Richard Dicker, director of HRW's International Justice Programme, who is leading a team of trial observers in Baghdad. "We have grave concerns that the court will not ensure fair trials. To ensure justice and its own legitimacy, the court must fix these deficiencies."

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