Saddam’s Trial Begins
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GWEN IFILL: Borzhou Daraghi, Baghdad correspondent for the Los Angeles times, thank you for joining us. Today we understand that Saddam Hussein was being tried on a fairly limited case, that of the atrocities that happened in 1982 in Dujail. Can you tell us about the charges which were being heard today.
BORZHOU DARAGAHI: This is a case of a group of villagers in the Shiite town of Dujail that were subjected to just absolutely the worst kind of punishment, collective punishment really, after an apparent assassination attempt on Saddam Hussein in 1982. The punishment went on for years and years allegedly.
Essentially what happened was that Saddam Hussein was visiting this town, as he visits many towns. He was making sort of a state visit, a grand state visit. On his way out, there were shots fired and apparently attempting to assassinate him. It was quite a gun fight in contrast to what Iraq’s official history said under Saddam Hussein. And some people were killed.
Saddam came in to town, vowed to go after those that had tried to assassinate him, but instead allegedly dispatched his deputies to wreak havoc on this town. There were hundreds and hundreds of men, women and children arrested. There were at least 148 people who were given execution orders; maybe 146 of them were formally executed. Many more probably died. Around 400 people were basically exiled, banished to a very harsh desert camp where many died there as well.
The town itself was defaced by Saddam Hussein. He brought in bulldozers and basically plowed the orchards and fruit groves over. He changed the course of the river that used to course through the town so that it would no longer replenish the groves and farms of this village.
GWEN IFILL: So Borzhou, what exactly was Saddam Hussein charged with?
BORZHOU DARAGAHI: Saddam Hussein was charged with crimes against humanity in the case of Dujail and the city of Dujail. I don’t think they specified exactly what types of crimes against humanity. The prosecutor in his very long, detailed presentation, he alleged acts of murder, acts of torture, imprisonment and banishment, unjustful imprisonment and banishment of hundreds of people.
GWEN IFILL: Three hours in the courtroom today, what was Saddam Hussein’s demeanor like?
BORZHOU DARAGAHI: Saddam Hussein was generally calm but defiant. At one point he refused even to give the judge his name. He was diligent. He was paying attention throughout the trial. His attention didn’t waiver. He was taking notes. He seemed engaged and energetic.
SADDAM HUSSEIN (Translated): I will not go along just to comment on your own talk. You asked for my ID, but this is a formality of the court. Therefore, I do not acknowledge either the entity that authorized you or the aggression because everything that’s based on falsehood is falsehood.
GWEN IFILL: He also challenged the judge, one of five judges we understand, the only one we saw on camera, about his right to even conduct this trial?
BORZHOU DARAGAHI: Absolutely. He questioned the whole premise of this trial. He essentially said that this court I do not recognize, this government I do not recognize. I don’t even know you. I know all the judges of Iraq. I didn’t appoint you. And so he was quite defiant on that point.
SADDAM HUSSEIN (Translated): Please, tell me. Who are you? And what are you? First, give me your ID card. No, I need to know.
JUDGE (Translated): We are a criminal court. We are a criminal court in Iraq.
GWEN IFILL: And in the end he pled not guilty?
BORZHOU DARAGAHI: He pled not guilty as did all the other seven co-defendants.
JUDGE RIZGAR MOHAMMED AMIN (Translated): I would like everyone to tell the court if he is guilty or innocent. Please can you say that you are guilty or innocent.
SADDAM HUSSEIN (Translated): I said what I said and I’m not guilty.
GWEN IFILL: What is the penalty for the crimes he’s been accused of?
BORZHOU DARAGAHI: Under current law, he could be subjected to the death penalty, probably by hanging or firing squad.
GWEN IFILL: And that goes as well for the other people who are on trial with him?
BORZHOU DARAGAHI: Yeah, absolutely, except for maybe the guy who is 80 years old. Under current Iraqi law, those over 70 can’t be subjected to the death penalty.
GWEN IFILL: Watching the scene in the courtroom today, it seemed as if it was very tight security. Was it like that?
BORZHOU DARAGAHI: Absolutely. The security precautions were draconian in the words of one U.S. embassy official who talked to us about this some weeks ago. There was a lot of tight security. I don’t think anyone is quite sure exactly where in the green zone this trial was going to take place until just the very last moment. People were not allowed to even bring their own pens and pads of paper into the courtroom. The court provided it for them.
GWEN IFILL: In the end the judge postponed the next stage of this trial until the end of November. Do we know why?
BORZHOU DARAGAHI: The ostensible reason was that neither the defense nor the prosecution are completely ready. The defense was saying some of the pages of evidence that they were given were blank so they need time to get evidence and absorb it and digest it and prepare a rebuttal.
But, you know, the choice of the date is interesting. Nov. 28 is just a couple weeks before the parliamentary elections. The current government sure could use a political boost in the weeks before that election.
GWEN IFILL: You have reported yourself from Dujail. Are people there and other Iraqis around the country following this trial very closely?
BORZHOU DARAGAHI: People in Iraq are following this trial very closely. I was with one family earlier today in a Shiite district of Kademia. They used to be 13, but over the course of the years and Saddam’s various alleged excesses, they’ve been whittled down to two, a brother and a sister. And for weeks they’ve been anticipating this trial. The brother took off work. The sister left her kids at another house. And she came to the old house where they both grew up so that they could watch this trial together.
GWEN IFILL: This is not the end of this. There are other trials on tap?
BORZHOU DARAGAHI: According to the trial officials that we speak to, absolutely, there’s going to be other trials. Saddam will be tried for alleged crimes in Halabja where 7,000 people were allegedly killed by chemical weapons. He will be tried for the Anfal campaign, the notorious campaign to crush Kurdish villages in the Kurdish North. He’ll be tried for his crimes alleged after the 1991 Shiite uprising in the South. And even today the Iranian government said that it wanted to bring charges against Saddam for crimes he committed during the Iran-Iraq War.
GWEN IFILL: All right. Borzhou Daraghi of the Los Angeles Times, thanks very much for joining us.
BORZHOU DARAGAHI: It’s been a pleasure. Thank you.