Saddam could go free, QC warns
By Peter Munro
October 15, 2005
SADDAM Hussein could walk free of crimes against humanity unless next week's Baghdad trial is moved to The Hague, human rights lawyer Geoffrey Robertson has warned.
Mr Robertson, the London-based, Australian-born QC who has trained Iraqi judges and prosecutors on humanitarian and war crimes, said the jury was still out on whether justice would be done in Wednesday's trial of the deposed dictator.
However, he warned that unless there was a delay in proceedings, due to start only four days after today's crucial vote on a new Iraqi constitution, Saddam could escape conviction.
"The Iraqi judges took their oath under the old constitution, which gives the president immunity for everything he does during his presidency, so they may find themselves required to acquit him," Mr Robertson said from his North London home.
"If they were a proper international court such clauses have no effect in relation to crimes against humanity and genocide."
"He is being charged with international crimes and his conviction would carry more weight if it was rendered by both international and national judges."
Mr Robertson, 59, said a similar scheme had worked for the United Nations War Crimes Tribunal in Sierra Leone, where he sits as an appeal judge.
He was among a team of legal experts from Britain and the US who have schooled Saddam's prosecutors and judges over the past 18 months in humanitarian law and war crimes.
The training included a mock trial of a fictional dictator during secret sessions in London.
Mr Robertson said that the judges on the Iraqi Special Tribunal, one of whom was assassinated in March, wanted to move the trial for fear of inciting further violence.
More than 400 people have been killed in less than three weeks in Iraq.
But that toll pales beside the 280,000 people thought to have been executed during Saddam's 20-year rule, according to Human Rights Watch.
Three Iraq judges, sitting without a jury, will first hear charges that Saddam ordered the 1982 massacre of 143 people in Dujail, a mainly Shiite town north of Baghdad, after a failed assassination attempt.
Next week's trial is expected to be the first of about a dozen involving alleged crimes of Saddam and seven of his cohorts, including the gassing of 5000 Kurds in Halabja in 1988.
None of the judges have experience of cases involving crimes of genocide and mass murder.
Mr Robertson said time was running out for the Iraq provisional authority to resolve this and other problems that could undermine the proceedings.
No decision has been made on how much, if any, of the trials will be televised. Saddam's lawyer, Kahil Dulaimi, has also criticised the prosecution for allegedly failing to provide access to his client or details of his charges.
"The trial was set up by the Americans and the hope was that the Iraqis would have these problems sorted out by now," Mr Robertson said. "But the Government hasn't dealt with them."
In October last year, Mr Robertson lectured Iraqi judges and prosecutors against pushing for the death penalty for Saddam if found guilty.
Mr Robertson used as an example the trial and execution of King Charles I as detailed in Mr Robertson's new book, The Tyrannicide Brief. The prosecution case was led by John Cooke, who for his role in the regicide was subsequently hung, drawn and quartered.
Saddam used almost the exact words of Charles I when appearing in court last year: "By what lawful authority do you bring me to trial?"
■ The British barrister who helped free the Guildford Four from jail has been asked to defend Saddam.
BBC's Newsnight program said Anthony Scrivener, QC, would travel to Iraq to represent him. But a representative of his chambers said that although Mr Scrivener had been approached about acting for Saddam, he had not yet taken on the job.
Ohhhhhhhhh S*** , now wouldnt
it be wonderful to see these two
deviates at the hague together