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Saddam in the Dock: Counsel Denied, Hearing Censored, Calls Bush “Criminal”

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We speak with Saddam Hussein’s lawyer Curtis Doebbler about the controversial pretrial hearing last week and political analyst Sam Husseini discusses how the only people granted the opportunity to clearly condemn U.S. policy in the Middle East are criminals themselves. [includes rush transcript]

Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein appeared before an Iraqi judge last Thursday to face charges that may lead to a formal indictment for war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide. He was not represented by a lawyer and refused to sign a statement acknowledging that he had been charged and read his rights, including a right to legal counsel.

Chief U.S. administrator Paul Bremer, who stepped down last week, established the tribunal by decree on December 10 to try Hussein and 11 other top Baathist officials. It is headed by Salem Chalabi, nephew of disgraced Iraqi politician Ahmad Chalabi.

Although legal custody of Saddam Hussein was reportedly transferred to Iraqi authorities it is unclear what actual power the interim government has over the former president. Robert Fisk of the London Independent writes “Americans continue to hold Saddam and Americans ran the court in which Saddam appeared. American soldiers in plain clothes were the 'civilians' in the court. American officials censored the tapes of the hearing, lied about the judge’s wish to record the sound of the trial, and marked the videotapes ’cleared by US military; three US officers later confiscated all the original tapes of the trial.”

Many lawyers say the trial is a political vendetta by Saddam’s political foes and say only an international court would guarantee an impartial and fair hearing.

  • Curtis Doebbler, attorney who is part of Saddam Hussein/s legal team.
  • Sam Husseini, Washington-based political analyst.

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re joined on the phone by Curtis Doebbler, part of the Saddam Hussein legal team. Welcome to Democracy Now!.

CURTIS DOEBBLER: Thank you very much

AMY GOODMAN: It’s good to have you with us. Can you explain what happened in court and why you or others who are representing Saddam Hussein, the attorneys, weren’t there?

CURTIS DOEBBLER: Yeah. I think it’s first important to understand that what happened last week was really a charade. It had no or very little legal meaning because it was not a transfer that would be valid under international law, under domestic law. The United States, as you pointed out, maintains control of the prisoner, in this case. So, they are responsible for his treatment. He was not even arraigned in court. The charges which were read out, if they were the charges, they would be a failing of the prosecutor, because they would be easy to refute. They were so vague that they would not stand up in any court of law in any country of the world as valid charges. So, really, what took place last week was really a media charade by the United States, in part, and by the Iraqi interim authority to try to show that they are exercising some authority over this individual, and that’s not the reality, and I believe from the United States’ point of view, it was an attempt to try to get rid of their responsibility. It’s interesting to note that a few hours before that took place on the 29th of July, the — we actually filed or Saddam Hussein filed a petition of habeas corpus before — or an application for habeas corpus before the United States Supreme Court. Ordinarily, that means you could not transfer a prisoner if they were in the custody of a state or in the custody of the United States until that was dealt with. So, I think that also just emphasizes the point that this trial is well without — outside the law and unfortunately, the United States government does not intend to apply the basic guarantees of due process to this prisoner.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re talking to the — one of the attorneys for Saddam Hussein. How did you get chosen, by the way? How does that work?

CURTIS DOEBBLER: I’m not at liberty to go into details of it, but the family — there are more than 1,500 lawyers put forward to the family and the family decided that some of them were lawyers that they wanted to represent them. I was asked by an intermediary, not the family directly, and I think most of the lawyers were chosen for different areas of expertise. I would imagine they probably were not a lot of international human rights lawyers, which is my area of expertise, that were interested in this matter.

AMY GOODMAN: And can you explain what happened? We had reports — CNN, the “New York Times,” about a scared Saddam Hussein in the courtroom. Then the sound leaked out. How did this take place? Explain exactly why we weren’t supposed to see this? Who was deciding this and what happened?

CURTIS DOEBBLER: I wish I could tell you more about that. I really — ourselves were not so much in the know about what is happening in this matter. As you know, we have not been allowed to meet our client yet, which is in itself a gross violation of his human rights. I think it was quite unfortunate that the incoming High Commissioner For Human Rights in the United Nations, Louis Arbor has indicated that we have to wait to determine whether or not there’s been a violation of human rights in this case, but there are already very clear violations of human rights, including the most basic of the rights to fair trial, the right to an independent and impartial tribunal. And until we are able to have regular contact with our client, as any lawyer would in any type of a criminal matter, whether it be a mass murderer or a petty criminal, we are not able really to tell you more than what you see through the eyes of the American military.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re also joined on the line by Sam Husseini, Washington-based political analyst. Your comments on what we saw and didn’t see and hear Thursday in the courtroom in Iraq.

SAM HUSSEINI: I thought it was fascinating how the issues that Saddam raised — he wasn’t a particularly good propagandist when he was in office, I thought. But I thought a lot of what he said was very effective when he was asked about the invasion of Kuwait. His response was, how could Saddam be tried over Kuwait, which said he would reduce Iraqi women to ten dinar prostitutes. He is simultaneously talking about issues of economic disparity and economic justice in the Arab world, the exploitation of Iraqi women, national dignity and so on. This is very potent stuff, and what I’m concerned is what’s going to play out here is that a lot of very legitimate issues — he called Bush a criminal. Somebody was able on all of the TV networks to very calmly, not — not shouting in the street as a lot of peace protesters are reduced to, very calmly say, Bush is a criminal. Bush the criminal. Juxtapose that with one of the segments that you noted earlier, Amy, the Democratic Platform will not even call the Iraq invasion a mistake at this point. I mean, usually a mistake is a watered down version of a watered down version of saying something is aggression, or criminal, so on and so forth. So now — we’re in this situation where virtually the only person granted a substantial platform to denounce U.S. policy in very crisp, clear terms as criminal, as aggression, as murderous is himself a murderous criminal. And this is incredibly unhealthy. Incredibly unhealthy that no one with clean hands, by and large. There are rare exceptions, of somebody allowed to have a national and international platform, and get beyond the mealy-mouthed, you know — “This is unfortunate unilateral action… This is unwise diplomacy…” when the U.S. is bombing the hell out of Fallujah or when the U.S. government is engaged in clear and obvious aggression. And this is going to play. This — it’s — I fear that this is going to a play and I think it would be important for people — Arabs, Arab-Americans and anybody who sees through in this duplicities of the U.S. Policy to not hitch anything to this. It’s going to be very tempting, I think. I have heard it on talk shows already of people to say — and indeed, Saddam Hussein’s procedural rights and I — I wouldn’t doubt for a minute other rights are being violated in this. That should be objected to on a principled level, but it’s exceedingly unfortunate in that we have to think about where we are as, you know, as people of conscience presumably that we’re in a situation where the person who gets to say it, to call it like it is, vis-a-vis U.S. Policy, is himself devoid of standing in the issue.

AMY GOODMAN: A final comment — final comment from Curtis Doebbler. The latest report that we have out of Amman from Reuters is that the Jordan-based defense team for Saddam Hussein is headed to Iraq, a convoy of busses being arranged to transport hundreds of legal experts to Baghdad. Issam Ghazawi a prominent lawyer, and one of the 21 strong defense team hired by Saddam’s wife told Reuters that among the large contingent of lawyers ready to defend Saddam are 700 non-Arabs, including 400 Americans and Europeans, 200 legal consultants from across the world have also pledged to help in the case, he said. More than half of the over 2,000 lawyers volunteering to defend President Saddam are expected to join the trip. Are you going?

CURTIS DOEBBLER: — from the wife of Saddam Hussein and there are many that are interested in assisting, and I think right now, we’re trying to move very cautiously. As you can imagine, in a matter like this, there are many people that come out of the woodwork and are interested in being involved, and I think it’s up to the family, really, to determine who, at this point, and then later, the prisoner himself, to determine who should be involved. I’d like to very quickly just comment on what the last speaker said. Although some of this calling Bush a war criminal and pointing out that the aggression against Iraq was — patently illegal under international law might be new to America, I work in more than 50 countries abroad. And in every other country in the world, that was clear from the start, and there were people publicly even sometimes the leaders of those countries saying that this war was illegal. So, I think that perhaps the impact of Saddam Hussein’s statements will be a surprise to the Americans, but to the rest of the world, they’re exactly what they have been hearing, and they sound unfortunately, perhaps, but also I think in a very realistic way as a very realistic appraisal of the situation that took place in Iraq.

AMY GOODMAN: Finally — the legal defense team for the deposed Iraqi President, Saddam Hussein, has chosen an Iraqi lawyer to represent him in court. This just out: Saddam’s Jordan-based lawyers say that the special tribunal conducting the trial has insisted that the defense counsel be an Iraqi.


AMY GOODMAN: The name of the Iraqi lawyer has not been revealed out of fear of his own security, and reprisals, said, Mr. Issam Ghazawi, the Jordanian lawyer in court last week, the preliminary charges read to Saddam Hussein. I want it thank you both for being with us. We have been speaking with Curtis Doebbler, who is one of the team of lawyers defending Saddam Hussein and also speaking with Sam Husseini, a Washington-based political analyst. This is Democracy Now!. When we come back, we will speak with the mother of a young soldier, who has died in Iraq, and then we’ll speak with a former embedded photographer, who provided some of the film to Michael Moore for “Fahrenheit 9/11” talking about his conversations with U.S. Soldiers in Iraq. Stay with us.

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