The Crimes of Saddam Hussein


By Dave Johns

1982 Dujail

Body bags in the desert

The first, and to date only, criminal case filed against Saddam stems from the 1982 killing of approximately 160 men and boys in the Shiite town of Dujail, about 35 miles north of Baghdad.

Saddam was visiting Dujail to drum up support for the war with Iran. Many villagers there were against the war and were angry with Saddam over state–ordered assassinations of Shiite religious leaders. A group of residents affiliated with the conservative Shiite religious party Daawa decided to try to kill Saddam. They hid in palm groves on the edge of town and fired shots on his convoy, but missed. Retribution was swift, violent and indiscriminate, according to Tribunal documents. Saddam’s security forces shot some townspeople dead in the streets. As many as 1,500 people, including whole families, were rounded up by secret police and taken to detention centers in Tikrit and Baghdad. Three years later, 143 men and boys were sentenced to death by Saddam’s revolutionary court and hanged in the notorious Abu Ghraib prison outside Baghdad. Many more were shipped off to a desert prison near the Saudi border. Survivors said miserable conditions there caused the deaths of dozens, including women, children and infants. Back in Dujail, more than 250,000 acres of palm groves and orchards were bulldozed, destroying the city’s economic base for years to come.

Charges and evidence

The Dujail case was selected as the first to be tried against Saddam because it is seen as relatively straightforward to prosecute. Prosecutors possess documents and videos that show Saddam’s role in the crimes. According to a 2003 Associated Press report, a presidential decree ordering the execution of Dujail men was discovered in a secret police office ransacked after the fall of Baghdad.

Seven other men face charges in the Dujail case along with Saddam. They include Saddam’s half–brother, Barzan Ibrahim, Iraq’s intelligence chief at the time, and Taha Yassin Ramadan, Iraq’s vice president from 1991 to 2003. Awad Haman Bander Sadun, chief of Iraq’s Revolutionary Court, is being tried for issuing death sentences to 143 Dujail residents. Four Ba’ath Party officials from Dujail face charges as well. Saddam will be tried for crimes against humanity and possibly for manipulating the judiciary after the assassination attempt.

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