Some Cast Critical Eye at Saddam's 'Rushed' Trial

Critics have questioned the validity of the proceedings that led to Saddam Hussein's execution. Michael Scharf, a professor of law at Case Western Reserve University, and co-author of the book Saddam on Trial: Understanding and Debating the Iraqi High Tribunal, looks at the role of war-crimes tribunals in international law.

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DEBBIE ELLIOTT, host:

With critics questioning the validity of the proceedings that led to Saddam Hussein's execution, we take a few minutes now to revisit the trial. It was plagued by problems from the beginning, and the fact that it was televised only heightened public scrutiny. Defendants launched into tirades, three defense attorneys were murdered, and a judge was replaced.

Michael Scharf, a law professor at Case Western Reserve, helped train the tribunal's judges.

Professor MICHAEL SCHARF (Case Western Reserve): Really, everything that could go wrong in this trial did. It began with the human rights community allied against the tribunal because it had decided to have the death penalty as an available penalty. Also, they decided not to have an international trial but rather to do it in Iraq. And finally, there was a lot of countries around the world and human rights organizations that thought it was inappropriate to have a trial after a war that was seen largely as unlawful.

So the tribunal was snake bitten from the beginning. But the real story is more nuanced. Throughout all these problems, the prosecution continued to bring witnesses and evidence into court and most of the trial was based on documents. And at the end of the proceedings, the tribunal issued a 298-page singled-space judgment. It's the longest ever written judgment in a war crime's trial.

And in that judgment, the judges deal with every single issue raised with the defense. And most of these are dealt with the first time, unlike U.S. courts, where pre-trial motions are decided at pre-trial. They waited until the final judgment to deal with all sorts of weighty issues like the question of whether the judge was too biased to preside over the trial.

And what you get when you read through this very long opinion is a sense that this trial actually did a credible job. I couldn't find as a law professor and an international law expert any major errors of law. The legal findings of fact were meticulously done. So if nothing else, they have written a definitive account of a period of history that needed to be written with credible evidence.

ELLIOTT: Executing Saddam now means that he will not be held accountable for much greater crimes like the genocide against tens of thousands of Kurds in the Anfal campaign. Are the Iraqi people now deprived of historical accounting?

Professor SCHARF: This is my biggest disappointment. That would have required a legislative change because the Iraqi High Tribunal statute has a provision that says that the death penalty, if given, has to be implemented within 30 days after the final appeal. It wouldn't have been hard to get that legislative change except for the fact that the winds of public opinion had also changed in Iraq.

And I think there was a general feeling that enough was enough. When you had to balance those two goals, the goal of having the accused face the victims and these other major atrocities versus the goal of just having Saddam Hussein removed from the scene, I think the Iraqi people ended up saying their best chance of peace would be an Iraq without a Saddam Hussein alive in it.

ELLIOTT: Michael Scharf is co-author of a book called "Saddam on Trial: Understanding and Debating the Iraqi High Tribunal." He joined us from us from WCLV in Cleveland, Ohio.

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