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Saddam Hussein Pleads Innocent in Trial Over 1982 Shiite Massacre

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We speak with writer Larry Everest on how many of Saddam Hussein’s war crimes occurred when Iraq was backed by the United States and the upcoming Bush Commission in New York where a group of academics and attorneys plan to accuse the Bush administration of war crimes in Iraq. [includes rush transcript]

Saddam Hussein’s trial has begun in Baghdad with the former Iraqi leader defiantly questioning the validity of the court before pleading not guilty for crimes against humanity.

He and seven associates all pleaded not guilty to charges of ordering and killing of 143 Shia men in 1982 in the village of Dujail. If convicted they could face the death penalty.

Saddam Hussein entered the courtroom wearing a dark jacket over an open-necked shirt and carrying a copy of the Koran. He refused to identify himself and questioned the validity of the proceedings. He told the judges “I preserve my constitutional rights as the president of Iraq. I do not recognize the body that has authorized you and I don’t recognize this aggression. What is based on injustice is unjust … I do not respond to this so-called court, with all due respect.”

Later, as the trial adjourned, he was involved in what appeared to be a scuffle with the guards who wanted to grab his arms to escort him out.

The case is being heard in a specially built courtroom in the heavily fortified Green Zone in the Iraqi capital. The courtroom is ringed with ten-foot-high blast walls and US and Iraqi troops.

Saddam Hussein’s co-accused include his half-brother, Barzan Ibrahim al-Tikriti, who was his intelligence chief and former Vice-President, Taha Yassin Ramadan.

The trial is being presided over by five judges. It had been suggested that their identities and backgrounds would be kept secret for their own protection, but the lead judge has now been named as Rizgar Mohammed Amin, an ethnic Kurd.

While a small number of observers and journalists were allowed in the courtroom, the public was excluded. The trial was broadcast on satellite stations around the world with a 20-minute delay.

The case is the first of many expected to be brought against the 68 year-old Saddam Hussein. It concerns the rounding up and execution of 143 men in Dujail, a Shia village north of Baghdad, following an attempt there on Saddam Hussein”s life. Iraqi mother Um Ahmed is one of those who may give evidence in the trial. She remembered what happened in 1982.

  • Um Ahmed, Dujail victim

The charge against Saddam Hussein and his associates carries the death penalty, though they have the right to appeal if they are found guilty.

Prosecution lawyers are also expected to bring charges concerning the gassing of 5,000 people in the Kurdish village of Halabja in March 1988, and the suppression of a Shia revolt following the first Gulf War. Iran said on Tuesday it had asked the court to charge the former Iraqi leader over the use of chemical weapons in the Iran-Iraq war.

After just over three hours, the trial was adjourned until November 28th. Saddam Hussein’s defense team had said they wanted a postponement to prepare their case, but Reuters quoted the chief judge as saying the main reason was witnesses had not shown up.

Khalil al-Dulaimi, Saddam’s chief lawyer, told the German newspaper Der Spiegel earlier this week “The entire proceeding is a farce. Nothing is occurring according to procedure. We did not receive any official documents until September 25. This is a dramatic violation of Iraqi laws.”

Human rights groups, too, have expressed concerns. Both Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International have questioned the impartiality and independence of the court. The United States drew up the original statutes of the special tribunal and is partly funding it.

We are joined now by Larry Everest. He is author of the book “Oil, Power & Empire: Iraq and the U.S. Global Agenda.” He writes frequently for the Revolutionary Worker newspaper.

  • Larry Everest, author of the book “Oil, Power & Empire: Iraq and the U.S. Global Agenda.” He writes frequently for the Revolutionary Worker newspaper. He is heading up an international commission of inquiry on cimes against humanity committed by the Bush administration on October 21 and 22 in New York City. For more information, go to: www.bushcommission.org?.

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

AMY GOODMAN: An Iraqi mother Um Ahmed is one of those whom may give evidence in the trial. She remembered what happened in 1982.

UM AHMED: One week after the assassination attempt they came and rounded us and detained all of us. The children and the elderly and even my sister-in-law who was two months pregnant then. They took us to the intelligence department first where they tortured us and after that they moved us to Abu Ghraib prison. They kept us there for several months after separating us from our brother. We don’t know where they were. They kept the women separately. They imprisoned us. They imprisoned my mother, a 70-year-old blind woman, with us and my sister and my stepmother, too. All of us. Even my two little brothers. They took our family and imprisoned us all. They executed my seven brothers and I caught asthma while in prison. I want to see justice done for my seven brothers. That means having Saddam executed seven times over. I support the death penalty.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re joined now by Larry Everest, author of the book, Oil, Power and Empire: Iraq and the U.S. Global Agenda. He writes frequently for the Revolutionary Worker Newspaper. Your response to the trial of Saddam Hussein?

LARRY EVEREST: I think the thing that strikes me most is the enormous hypocrisy on many different levels of the United States government. Saddam Hussein has been accused of killing 300,000 Iraqis, a horrible crime. The fact of the matter is that the United States was directly complicit in his worst crimes including encouraging him to invade Iran, supplying and facilitating his use of chemical weapons, directly calibrating chemical acts — attacks during the 1980’s. In fact, one month before the Dujail massacre, Ronald Reagan signed a secret finding urging the United States to help prevent an Iraqi loss.

The other thing that strikes me is in terms of the incredible hypocrisy of this is the fact that while the United States is accusing Saddam of crimes against humanity it is committing crimes against humanity right now as we speak in Iraq. This week, 70 people including many civilians were killed in what can only be described as a revenge attack and collective punishment in the city of Ramadi.

We have new reports of torture that that had been brought out in which soldiers are saying they’re going on a cross-Iraq that will make Abu Ghraib pale in comparison. People’s feet being smashed with axes and so on. And I heard this testimony firsthand in Istanbul. What stands out to me is that it’s the Bush administration that should be brought to trial for war crimes and crimes against humanity.

JUAN GONZALEZ: Our understanding is that you are organizing now a commission of inquiry here in the United States on the war?

LARRY EVEREST: That’s correct, Juan. This Friday in Manhattan at 6:00 at the Manhattan Center, we’re opening our first session with a special message from Howard Zinn addresses by Mark Raskin, and Michael Ratner of the Center for Constitutional Right. We’ll have presentations by Barbara Olshansky, testimony from people like Denis Halliday. We’re going to be inquiring into Bush crimes on the war, on torture, on the devastation of the global environment and on its response to the AIDS pandemic. And if people want to give us —- find out much more, I urge them to go to our website, www.bushcommission.org. We’re also—-

AMY GOODMAN: Larry, I want to thank you. I’ve got to cut you off here, but I want to thank you for being with us. We’ll make links on our website at democracynow.org. Larry Everest, author of Oil, Power and Empire. This is Democracy Now!.

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