- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 19, 2005

The much-anticipated trial of former Iraqi strongman Saddam Hussein began yesterday in Baghdad’s so-called Green Zone, the heavily fortified enclave where Iraqi government and U.S. officials live and work.

Saddam’s trial will no doubt be one of the most publicized political trials since the Nuremberg War Crimes Tribunal, at the end of World War II, brought to trial almost the entire Nazi leadership. Or since the trial of Adolph Eichmann, found responsible for the extermination of millions, particularly Jews, during World War II. Eichmann was kidnapped in Argentina and brought to stand trial in front of an Israeli court in Jerusalem, in 1961. He was found guilty and hanged and remains the only convicted criminal to receive the death penalty in Israel’s history.

Saddam’s trial, adjourned until Nov. 28 at the request of his lawyer, will be televised, officials say. It will also require unprecedented security measures amid fears his supporters might try to upset the proceedings or even to snatch him.

Saddam is responsible for the deaths of several hundreds of thousands of people during his 24-year reign of terror. Rarely had he hesitated to order those killed who stood in his way, and often eliminated anyone he even suspected of disloyalty.

Saddam came to power in the wake of the 1968 coup when he aided his frail cousin Gen. Ahmad Hassan al-Bakr. Two years later, in 1970, Saddam sidelined Bakr, assumed all power, creating a personality cult built around himself. He arrested and ordered the immediate execution of hundreds at a party meeting broadcast live on television. People whose names were called out were taken away by Saddam’s goons.

He launched the devastating war on Iran, which lasted eight grueling years and caused nearly a million deaths on both sides.

In August 1990, Saddam invaded Kuwait, declaring it Iraq’s 19th province. His troops trashed the tiny emirate, brutally quashing any resistance. They then looted the emirate on an unprecedented scale, stealing anything they could. Cars, furniture, electronics, the contents of entire shopping malls were simply transferred to trucks and sent to Baghdad. All the money from the central bank was taken away to Baghdad.

As the Iraqi army retreated when the U.S.-led liberation of Kuwait began, Saddam had his men set fire to Kuwait’s oil wells, creating a massive ecological disaster.

After the failed uprising by Shi’ites in southern Iraq, Saddam reportedly ordered the slaughter of more than 200,000. Soon after American forces entered Baghdad in 2003, video footage was discovered showing troops loyal to Saddam forcing blindfolded men to walk off the roof of a two-story building. The fall was not enough to kill the prisoners, but the shock of hitting the ground was brutal enough to break their bones. As soon as they hit the ground, other officials would grab them and force them to walk away despite excruciating pain.

Other videos showed how young men were executed; forced to sit on a pile of dirt, a small amount of dynamite taped on their shirt, or inserted in their chest pockets, next to their hearts. Then, as officials watched from just a few yards away, the dynamite was detonated. Dirt was piled up on the dead man as another prisoner was put through the same procedure. And then another, and so on.

Saddam is reported to have personally pulled the trigger, killing political opponents on numerous occasions.

He also ordered chemical weapons used against Kurdish villages, notably on Halabjah, on March 16, 1988. More than 5,000 Kurds, many of them women and children, died in what was described as the worst chemical attack by the Iraqi regime.

Another million people died during the eight-year Iraq-Iran war, a conflict instigated by Saddam. Thousands more died in the invasion of Kuwait and the ensuing war to liberate the oil-rich emirate in 1990-91, when Saddam decided to annex it.

But for all his crimes, Saddam appeared before the court yesterday to face charges relating only to his involvement in ordering the massacre of 160 people in 1982 in the village of Dujail.

Dujail is a small town of about 10,000 inhabitants, some 25 miles north of Baghdad. Following an unsuccessful assassination attempt on Saddam, he ordered his troops to carry out a reprisal raid against the town. About 160 people were killed or later executed; another 1,500 were arrested and tortured. On those charges Saddam’s trial will open.

“The circumstances of this trial are hallucinating,” Chibli Mallat, a Lebanese attorney and professor of law involved in international litigation, told United Press International.

“Under the circumstances, international standards will be respected, and it will be the fairest possible trial,” explained Mr. Mallat, who would have liked to see the trial held outside Iraq. But that is not about to happen. Neither the Iraqis nor the Americans will permit a change in the trial’s venue.

The question now asked by several jurists is whether Saddam will be executed or spend the rest of his life in solitary confinement. Odds are Saddam will be spared the death penalty. However, should the former Iraqi president be sentenced to death, it would be by hanging, like Eichmann.

Claude Salhani is international editor for United Press International.

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