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Famous cases: The trial of Saddam Hussein

Famous cases: The trial of Saddam HusseinOne of the most infamous dictators of our time was captured in December 2003. But how can you try a man who everyone thinks is evil?

In March 2003 The United States, backed by British forces and smaller contingents from Australia, Poland and Denmark invaded Iraq. Their declared aims were "to disarm Iraq of weapons of mass destruction, to end Saddam Hussein's support for terrorism, and to free the Iraqi people." Iraq fell in April 2003, and Hussein was captured on 13th December. He remained in US custody in Baghdad until he was brought to trial on 19th October 2005.

How should he be tried?

There were discussions as to whether the Iraqi president should be tried in front of an international court but the US government had announced before the fall of Baghdad that it wanted any trial of Hussein to be in Iraq.

The trial began before the Iraqi Special Tribunal, set up by the U.S.-appointed Iraqi Governing Council. Hussein and seven other defendants were tried for crimes against humanity with regard to events that took place after a failed assassination attempt in Dujail in 1982 by members of the Islamic Dawa Party. The second trial dealt with the genocide of the Kurds of Northern Iraq.

A difficult trial

Saddam Hussein claimed that the tribunal were not immune from US interference, and so was not legitimate. He pleaded not guilty. 
Shortly after the trial began two lawyers representing the defendants were killed. In January the chief judge resigned after complaining of government interference. On 21st June 2006, Hussein's chief defence lawyer, Khamis al-Obeidi, was assassinated.

Despite the interference, Hussein was found guilty, sentenced to death and executed on 30 December 2006.

Was it fair?

International human rights groups have expressed concern about the legal process surrounding the trial. The US set up the court, funded it and provided the security. The US, and to a lesser extent the UK government, had lawyers working openly and behind the scenes from the beginning, leading some to question the extent of legal consultation before the tribunal's creation. Further the tribunal did not have to prove guilt beyond reasonable doubt. Instead, the Iraqi tribunal only had to be "satisfied" of guilt. 
Questions have also been raised about the quality of some of the prosecution evidence and testimony, and there are allegations that some witnesses had been coached by prosecutors.
There is little doubt that Saddam Hussein was a brutal tyrant and that he was indeed guilty as charged however the concerns expressed about the type of trials he was subjected to raise serious issues about international law and the prosecution of people who commit crimes against humanity.