Saddam Hussein, the leader of a brutal regime for 35 years, will be transferred to Iraqi legal custody today and publicly arraigned Thursday in connection with crimes against the Iraqi people, interim Prime Minister Iyad Allawi said at his first news conference as head of government.
It will be Iraqis’ first glimpse of Hussein since he was captured in December and Americans displayed photographs of the former leader bearded, long-haired and looking disoriented. Eleven former top officials of his Baath Party regime also are to be arraigned.
Hussein is expected to be arraigned on charges of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes, as well as other misdeeds, according to lawyers involved in the case. He is likely to be tried for the use of chemical weapons in the 1988 attack on the Kurdish town of Halabja, the Anfal massacre of Kurds in the north the same year and crimes related to Iraq’s 1980-88 war with Iran and to the violent suppression of a Shiite Muslim uprising in southern Iraq in 1991, among others.
The new interim government’s request that the U.S.-led coalition transfer Hussein to Iraqi custody was Allawi’s first official act as head of government and seemed designed to underscore to Iraqis that his government, not the old regime, was in control. The move also bolstered the government’s standing as compared with the American-led occupation, which had classified Hussein as a prisoner of war rather than a defendant in a criminal proceeding.
“We would like to show the world that the new Iraq government means business and wants to do business and wants to stabilize Iraq.... We want to put this bad period behind us,” Allawi said Tuesday.
Though the transfer of custody and arraignment represent the new Iraqi government’s commitment to bringing the old one to justice, they are just the first steps in what is likely to be many months and probably a year or more of legal proceedings.
The arraignment will be held in a courtroom before an Iraqi investigative judge who will present the initial charges against Hussein and inform him of his rights, including remaining silent and retaining counsel. Hussein is permitted to hire lawyers from outside Iraq, and there are reports that at least one foreign defense team, from France, might represent him. Under Iraqi law, the government will pay for Hussein’s counsel if he is unable to afford the costs.
Among those scheduled to be arraigned with Hussein are former Deputy Prime Minister Tarik Aziz and Ali Hassan Majid, also known as “Chemical Ali,” said Salem Chalabi, the executive director of the Iraqi Special Tribunal created to handle the trials. Majid is alleged to have been among those responsible for gassing the Kurds at Halabja.
The arraignment will be televised and is expected to show Hussein and others in chains as they walk into the courtroom to hear the charges -- a dramatic and graphic display of how far from power they have fallen. Once the arraignment is complete, their status will be changed from prisoners of war to criminal detainees under Iraqi law. In general, prisoners of war have fewer rights and aren’t charged with a crime.
The detainees will remain in American military custody until Iraqis have a secure prison facility, Allawi said. The concern is that unless the facility is secure, relatives of Hussein’s victims might attempt to take justice into their own hands or, alternatively, supporters of the former dictator might attempt to help him escape.
The U.S. government is playing a substantial role in the cases through its Regime Crimes Liaison Office. Lawyers and investigators attached to that office provide legal support for the Iraqis on forensics, exhumations and the entire investigative infrastructure, according to senior U.S. government lawyers here. When it is fully staffed, about 75 foreign lawyers and investigators will be helping to track down evidence and organize the case. Most of the staff is expected to be Americans, but it is hoped that experts from European countries also will be involved in the case.
The extent of European involvement may depend on whether Iraq reinstates the death penalty. In deference to Britain, which forbids the death penalty, L. Paul Bremer III, as the U.S. civilian administrator for Iraq, suspended it for the period of the occupation. Allawi said the question of reinstating the death penalty was under discussion.
Many Iraqis, including government officials, would like to see it reinstated. At the same time, Iraqi officials want to avoid alienating potential European allies who might be unwilling to lend their expertise to the trial if Hussein or others could face execution.
Under the legal system used by Iraq, which is similar to that of many continental European countries, an investigative judge -- acting much like a grand jury under the U.S. system -- first determines whether there is enough evidence to proceed with a case. If so, the suspect is arraigned and the investigation continues until there is enough evidence to prepare an indictment. Chalabi said he expected that Hussein’s indictment would not be completed until fall and his trial would take place in winter at the earliest.
“Once the indictment is issued, then a timetable kicks in,” Chalabi said.
This is the first group to be arraigned from among the detainees formerly among the 55 people on the Pentagon’s most-wanted list, made famous by a deck of cards bearing their likenesses distributed by U.S. forces. Others will be arraigned in the coming months, Chalabi said.
Iraqis greeted the announcement with enthusiasm, saying that Hussein ought to suffer for all he had put the Iraqi people through, but they still seemed amazed that such a thing would come to pass.
“A tyrant in the dock -- that is unbelievable,” said Sheerwan Hassan, 42, a Kurd. “I and my family are eagerly awaiting the sight of that person being prosecuted. That is the first step toward democracy in Iraq.”
Undertaking the trial of a former leader such as Hussein is fraught with difficulties, as the international legal community has learned in the case of former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic, who is being tried by a tribunal in The Hague. That trial has gone on for more than two years, and no end is in sight.
French lawyer Emmanuel Ludot, part of a 20-member team reportedly appointed by Hussein’s wife to represent him, said the former Iraqi president would refuse to acknowledge any court or judge. “It will be a court of vengeance, a settling of scores,” Ludot told France Info radio.
Ludot, 49, an expert on penal law, is based in the French city of Reims. He has participated in a number of high-profile international cases, including lawsuits for pilots opposing the privatization of Air France and on behalf of victims of the Chernobyl nuclear accident in Ukraine. Ludot is said to have joined the multinational defense team through his longtime friendship with Mohammed Rashdan, a Jordanian lawyer who has represented Hussein in other cases, according to French news reports.
Ludot began working on the case in December. He has told French reporters that money is not an incentive, because “Saddam’s family does not have a penny.”
(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)
Iraqi Tribunal Detainees
The Iraqi Special Tribunal has announced arrest and detention warrants for 12 former regime members in U.S. military custody.
1. Saddam Hussein, president; detained Dec. 13.
2. Ali Hassan Majid, also known as “Chemical Ali” for his suspected role in chemical weapons attacks against the Kurds; was No. 5 on the Pentagon’s most-wanted list; detained Aug. 21.
3. Aziz Saleh Numan, Baath Party Baghdad regional command chairman; No. 8 on the most-wanted list; detained May 22, 2003.
4. Barzan Ibrahim Hassan, presidential advisor and Hussein’s half brother; No. 38 on the most-wanted list; allegedly the chief organizer of a clandestine group of companies and funds handling Hussein’s money; detained April 16, 2003.
5. Kamal Mustafa Abdullah, secretary of the Republican Guard; Hussein’s son-in-law; No. 10 on the most-wanted list; detained May 17, 2003.
6. Mohammed Hamza Zubeidi, retired Revolutionary Command Council member; a leader of the violent suppression of the 1991 Shiite rebellion; No. 9 on the most-wanted list; detained April 20, 2003.
7. Sabir Abdul Aziz Douri, governor of Baghdad; head of military intelligence during the 1991 Persian Gulf War; detention date unknown.
8. Abid Hamid Mahmoud, presidential secretary; oversaw Hussein’s personal security force; detained June 16, 2003.
9. Sultan Hashim Ahmad, defense minister; No. 27 on the most-
wanted list; detained Sept. 19.
10. Taha Yassin Ramadan, Iraqi vice president; Revolutionary Command Council member; No. 20 on the most-wanted list; detained Aug. 20.
11. Tarik Aziz, former deputy prime minister, foreign minister; No. 25 on the most-wanted list; detained April 25, 2003.
12. Watban Ibrahim Hassan, presidential advisor and Hussein’s half brother; detained April 13, 2003.
From Associated Press
Times staff writer Sebastian Rotella in Paris contributed to this report.