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Former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein goes on trial this Wednesday, and human rights groups are raising concerns about the fairness of the proceedings. Human Rights Watch issued the latest criticism of the special Iraqi tribunal, which will try Saddam and some of his closest aides. NPR's Deborah Amos reports from London.
DEBORAH AMOS reporting:
Richard Dicker, the director of the International Justice Program at Human Rights Watch, wrote the report that outlines profound concerns. Dicker plans to observe the trial in Baghdad. His flight was delayed by sandstorms, and he's in the Jordanian capital, Amman.
Mr. RICHARD DICKER (Director, International Justice Program, Human Rights Watch): It's so important that Saddam Hussein is brought to trial. Horrific crimes occurred under his leadership, and there needs to be some truth and justice for those who suffered. For justice to be done, the trials have to be fair.
AMOS: Dicker's concerns include no requirement to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, a death penalty that must be carried out within 30 days of the final judgment and the rule that a defendant's silence can be considered as evidence. In London, the head of Saddam's legal team, Abdul Haq al-Ani, not surprisingly claims his client cannot get a fair trial in Baghdad.
Mr. ABDUL HAQ AL-ANI (Member of Saddam Hussein's Legal Team): So today, we haven't received the exact text of the charge. What is Saddam Hussein charged with? I'm serious. What's he charged with?
AMOS: And he has no official copy of the court's rules.
Mr. AL-ANI: How on earth can I stand in court and argue a case when I don't know what the order of that court is?
AMOS: Richard Dicker says he raised this issue with Iraqi judges, who claim the defense team has all the needed documents but have not officially confirmed the documents have been sent, which raises another question about the upcoming trial, says Dicker.
Mr. DICKER: If, in fact, the defense lawyers don't get ample access, no trial can be fair.
AMOS: Saddam's legal team has approached high-profile British lawyers to join them in what will be an intensely scrutinized proceeding. The strongest defense card may be al-Ani, an Iraqi trained in British law. Well known in Iraqi governing circles, he attended Baghdad College in the 1960s with Ahmed Chalabi and Ayad Allawi, two prominent politicians. But al-Ani represents a different political view that becomes clear when he's asked why he took the case.
Mr. AL-ANI: A fair trial is to all, everybody, whatever the charge against him because he's innocent until we can prove, in a court of law, that he's guilty. I do not think that Western powers can walk into any country, wreck it, destroy it and give us the false pretense that it's being done for human rights and human values.
AMOS: Saddam's trial was always going to be controversial. International lawyers and human rights groups have been raising concerns since Iraqis backed by the Bush administration decided against an international tribunal. Iraq's president, Jalal Talabani, a lawyer himself, raised more questions when he said Saddam had confessed and he should be executed 20 times a day, a claim Iraqi tribunal judges publicly dismissed. It is in this charged atmosphere, says Jeffrey Beinman(ph), chairman of the British Institute of Human Rights, that the Iraqi government must ensure Saddam's trial is seen to be fair almost two years after his capture.
Mr. JEFFREY BEINMAN (Chairman, British Institute of Human Rights): If he had been shot on the side, that would have saved a great deal of trouble. But in the situation that we have, it seems to me the Iraqis have got a very difficult choice. They've either got to put him on trial, or they've got to let him go free.
AMOS: According to Iraqi and human rights sources, as well as the defense team, the trial that begins on Wednesday is not the main event. It is more likely to last for one day and resume at least a month later. Deborah Amos, NPR News, London.
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