Tue, Nov 21, 2006 - Page 7 News List

Human Rights Watch says Saddam trial `questionable'

AP , NEW YORK

Human Rights Watch said yesterday that the trial against former Iraqi president Saddam Hussein in which he was sentenced to death for crimes against humanity was not carried out fairly, saying the verdict was "questionable" and the Iraqi court was not equipped to handle such a complex case.

The 97-page report, based on observation of the trial and interviews with court officials, lawyers and other key parties in the tribunal, found "serious procedural flaws" in the Iraqi High Tribunal's handling of the trial.

On Nov. 5, the court sentenced Saddam and two other senior members of his regime to death by hanging for ordering the execution of nearly 150 Shiite Muslims from the Iraqi city of Dujail following a 1982 attempt on Saddam's life.

The Iraqi court was created in 2003 after the US invasion to prosecute cases of human rights violations in Iraq.

The US-based rights group said the court had shortcomings in the timely disclosure of incriminating evidence, that the defendants were not allowed to properly confront witnesses, and that the judges at times did not maintain an impartial demeanor.

"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 report said.

"The result is a trial that did not meet key fair trial standards. Under such circumstances, the soundness of the verdict is questionable," it said.

The group, which is against the death penalty, also said the death sentence against Saddam is "an inherently cruel and inhumane punishment," and "in the wake of an unfair trial is indefensible."

An appeals court is expected to rule on the verdict and death sentence by mid-January. Saddam's defense team must present an appeal to a higher, nine-judge panel by Dec. 5.

Last week, Saddam's lawyer complained that the court was ignoring his requests for documents to appeal the guilty verdict. There was no immediate comment from Iraqi court officials.

"The verdict against [former] president Saddam Hussein is purely political and all the conditions of a fair trial -- as stipulated under international law -- have been gravely violated, including the right to appeal the verdict in a court of cassation," Saddam's chief lawyer Khalil al-Dulaimi said in a written statement.

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