The just-concluded trial of Saddam Hussein and members of his regime was marred by so many flaws that the verdict is unsound, the New York-based Human Rights Watch said in a statement released on Monday.
The report – one of the harshest and best-documented critiques of the trial process – points out many of the procedural flaws that the human rights group and other courtroom observers had already noted. But it also argues that there were gaps in establishing the individual guilt of each of the seven defendants.
“The court’s conduct, as documented in this report, reflects a basic lack of understanding of fundamental fair trial principles, and how to uphold them in the conduct of a relatively complex trial. The result is a trial that did not meet key fair trial standards,” the report concluded.
Mr Hussein and two other members of his regime were sentenced to death on November 5, following a year-long trial on charges related to a campaign of reprisals against the Shia village of Dujail where the former president survived a 1982 assassination attempt. Four other defendants received lesser sentences.
Media coverage in the trial focused on Mr Hussein’s attempts to turn the tables on his accusers with a series of outbursts and political speeches as well as other theatrics involving a boycott of the proceedings by most of the defence team.
The HRW report, however, highlighted administrative and procedural problems and gaps in the evidence, which, while less dramatic, were perhaps more damaging to how the trial, and others like it, will be perceived.
Among the flaws listed in the 97-page report was the presentation of evidence that was not given in advance of the trial to the defence, testimony from absent witnesses which was read into the record without giving the defence a chance to challenge those witnesses, and “lapses of judicial demeanour” which included occasional exchanges of insults with the defendants.
Administrative problems included lack of planning for the security of defence counsels, three of whom were assassinated. In addition, the HRW report argued that the evidence had big gaps, in particular its failure to show how Mr Hussein’s repressive regime worked.
There was “almost total lack of evidence” on a number of points needed to prove the individual guilt of defendants, such as the authority and internal organisation of the security organisations and political institutions implicated in the events at Dujail.
Mr Hussein is scheduled to be hanged within 30 days of the exhaustion of his appeals.
The Dujail trial is one of a dozen involving Mr Hussein and other regime officials that are expected to take place next year. The former president is currently standing trial on charges related to the Anfal campaign of the 1980s which Iraqi Kurds say left 180,000 dead.
Despite widespread criticism of both the Anfal and Dujail cases, senior officials in Iraq’s Shia-led government have pushed for Mr Hussein’s hasty execution.