The Chilean judge who led the legal fight against former President Augusto Pinochet for human rights abuses said yesterday he doubts an Iraqi court will be able to conduct a fair and impartial trial for imprisoned dictator Saddam Hussein.
“Personally, I don’t like the makeup of this tribunal because I don’t think it can be objective,” said retired judge Juan Guzman Tapia, in an interview on the day Saddam’s trial officially opened in Baghdad.
The Chilean judge, in Washington to accept a human rights prize from the leftist Institute for Policy Studies, said it would be better for an international court to try Saddam because many in the Iraqi tribunal and in the government suffered directly at the defendant’s hands.
“Nobody who suffered because of Saddam’s orders or who is convinced already of his guilt should be studying the evidence in his trial,” Mr. Guzman said.
The Pinochet prosecution remains a subject of deep disagreement in Chile and among international legal scholars. Gen. Pinochet, now 89 and physically frail, ruled Chile from 1973 to 1990 after a military coup.
Despite considerable opposition from elements in the armed forces and in the government, Mr. Guzman was able to bring indictments in 2000 and 2004 against the former leader on charges of human rights abuses, repression and the kidnapping and murder of political opponents.
Both times, Chile’s courts agreed to strip Gen. Pinochet of the immunity he claimed for his actions as president, but blocked the trials because of his questionable physical and mental health.
Mr. Guzman retired from his post in April to become dean of a law school in the capital, Santiago. His book on the lengthy Pinochet prosecution has become a best-seller in Chile.
Gen. Pinochet’s legal woes are not over. The Chilean Supreme Court yesterday ruled Gen. Pinochet does not have immunity on new charges of tax fraud and embezzlement over profits that new prosecuting Judge Sergio Munoz said the general made on kickbacks from European arms dealers.
Gen. Pinochet’s attorneys deny the charges and say he is the victim of a vendetta that began with Mr. Guzman and has continued under Judge Munoz.
Mr. Guzman said yesterday that he felt he could be impartial because neither he nor any of his close relatives or friends had suffered directly under the Pinochet regime. He said he never expected the courts to permit the human rights indictments to go forward or that the cases would take up so much of his professional career.
He said that, if properly conducted, the case against Saddam could help Iraqis to heal after the bitter divisions of his dictatorship.
The Pinochet cases, he said, “have been good for the nation.” He said the prosecution had made it easier to indict other officials of the regime.
Mr. Guzman said he doubted the ailing Gen. Pinochet ever actually would face a courtroom, noting that it would take at least two years to prepare the human rights cases and another two years for a trial.