By JAMES ROSEN
October 19, 2005
But in a sensational setting expected to be televised across the globe, the road to conviction is all but guaranteed to be a bumpy one for the United States, filled with embarrassing reminders of its past close ties with Saddam and strong challenges to current U.S. military operations against Iraqi insurgents.
Michael Scharf, a Case Western Reserve Law School professor and former State Department lawyer who helped train the Iraqi judges and prosecutors in Saddam's case, said that with the world watching and listening, what goes on outside the courtroom will be as important in shaping the opinions of Iraqis and foreigners alike as what transpires inside.
Scharf said he wouldn't be surprised if on the trial's first day, Ramsey Clark, a former U.S. attorney general and one of two American lawyers on Saddam's defense team, is out on the courthouse steps, waving a document filled with facts and photos chronicling the U.S.-Iraqi covert alliance against the radical Islamic leaders of Iran during the 1980s.
Based on his ongoing contacts with members of the Iraq Special Tribunal and his knowledge of the Saddam defense strategy, Scharf also envisions a courtroom scenario in which Gen. George Casey, commander of U.S. and allied forces in Iraq, is subpoenaed and grilled about U.S. counterinsurgency tactics.
Or President Clinton could be compelled to testify about the 23 cruise missiles he ordered to be launched at the Iraqi intelligence service's downtown Baghdad headquarters in 1993. That attack, after the United States learned that Iraq had been behind an assassination attempt against former President Bush, caused numerous civilian casualties.
Saddam has plenty of legal firepower at his disposal, with 20 prominent lawyers from around the world defending him, many without compensation.
"I think it's inherently going to be a circus," Scharf said. "Inside the courtroom, the tribunal will do everything possible to maintain decorum. Outside the courtroom, you're going to have al Jazeera broadcasting everything Ramsey Clark says against the United States."
Unlike the international tribunal that has been trying Slobodan Milosevic for four years for a broad range of war crimes in Bosnia, Croatia and other parts of the former Yugoslavia, the Iraq Special Tribunal, with heavy input from U.S. advisers, decided to prosecute Saddam on one set of charges at a time. They didn't want to see a repeat of the Milosevic trial before the U.N. International Criminal Tribunal at The Hague, where the former Yugoslav strongman has represented himself in a sprawling four-year trial and made grandstanding claims that have won him sympathy among many fellow Serbs back home.
As it is, U.S. and Iraqi officials involved in the trial are worried that Saddam, a Sunni Muslim, and his lawyers will use the trial to incite Iraqi Sunnis who are leading the insurgency.
In the trial, Saddam and six former top aides will be prosecuted for a 1982 attack on the Iraqi town of Dujail. Saddam's lawyers have indicated they will argue that the attack was justified because radical Shiite Muslims opposed to Saddam's regime tried to kill him in a hail of gunfire after luring him to the town for purported negotiations. After the assassination attempt, Saddam's forces allegedly killed 150 villagers, destroyed their homes and businesses, and torched surrounding groves of date palms.
Depending on the outcome of the Dujail trial, Saddam later could face separate prosecutions for his role in the use of chemical weapons against Iraqi Kurds, for the chemical attacks he allegedly launched against Iran during the Iraq-Iran war of the 1980s, and for his alleged liquidation of Shiite marsh Arabs in southern Iraq after their failed uprising after the 1991 Gulf War.
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