Judging Human Rights Watch: An Appraisal of Human Rights Watch's Analysis of the Ad-Dujayl Trial

Article excerpt


On November 5, 2006, Trial Chamber 1 of the Iraqi High Tribunal (IHT) issued its verdict in the Ad-Dujayl trial. (1) That verdict convicted Saddam Hussein, (2) Barzan al-Tikriti, (3) and Awad al Bandar (4) of crimes against humanity inflicted upon the civilian population of Ad-Dujayl following a failed assassination attempt against Saddam Hussein that occurred there in 1982. Each of these three defendants was sentenced to death. The IHT also sentenced Taha Yaseen Ramadan (5) to life, three other defendants (6) to a term of fifteen years imprisonment, and acquitted one defendant (7) of all charges.

On November 20, 2006, Human Rights Watch (HRW) issued a 94-page report (Report) that analyzed alleged substantive and procedural deficiencies of the first trial before the IHT. (8) The HRW Report concludes that the Ad-Dujayl trial did not meet essential fair trial standards and that the credibility of the entire IHT process is doubtful. (9) Two days later, Trial Chamber 1 issued a densely worded, single-spaced, 299-page opinion explaining its rationale for the November 5, 2006 verdict. (10)

On December 26, 2006, the IHT appellate chamber affirmed the trial chamber's death sentences in a 17-page written opinion and remanded back to Trial Chamber 1 the judgment against Taha Yaseen Ramadan with instructions to increase the penalty against him to death. (11) The Iraqi government executed Saddam Hussein on December 30, 2006 and Barzan al-Tikriti and Awad al Bandar on January 15, 2007. (12) On January 25, 2007, Trial Chamber 1 reconvened (ostensibly to increase Taha Yaseen Ramadan's sentence to death) with three of the five judges of the original panel either away from Iraq or otherwise absent. (13) The IHT adjourned that court date stating that the defense attorneys had not received proper notice of the session. (14)

On February 12, 2007, Trial Chamber 1 reconvened with the same judges five judges who were present on January 25, 2007. (15) Despite protests from the United Nations, (16) the Council of Europe, (17) defense counsel, and others, Trial Chamber 1 increased the sentence against Taha Yaseen Ramadan from life (which the original Trial Chamber had issued) to death. (18) The IHT Appellate Chamber affirmed this sentence without written opinion on March 15, 2007. (19) Taha Yaseen Ramadan was hung on March 20, 2007 thereby ending the Ad-Dujayl case. (20) The trial chamber judgment, the appellate chamber judgment, and the executions of Saddam Hussein, Barzan al-Tikriti, Awad al Bandar, and Taha Yaseen Ramadan were not analyzed or taken into account in the Report.

This article attempts to address some of the legal and factual inaccuracies of the Report and to correct them in view of the IHT's issuance of the trial and appellate judgments and the executions of Saddam Hussein, Barzan al-Tikriti, Awad al Bandar, and Taha Yaseen Ramadan. The purpose of this exercise is to ensure that the Report's conclusions can be more thoroughly analyzed and so that those who were not in Iraq and did not participate in the day-to-day operations of the Ad-Dujayl trial can better understand what occurred and the role that the U.S. Embassy's Regime Crimes Liaison's Office (RCLO) (21) played as the trial unfolded.

This article does not opine about whether the Ad-Dujayl trial and appellate processes comported with international standards as such an analysis would require significant time and resources that are currently unavailable. Instead, this article limits itself solely to the issues and concerns raised in the Report. With this limitation in mind, this article will attempt to address (1) administrative problems specified in the Report and to determine whether the administrative criticisms that HRW levies against the IHT are correct; (2) procedural concerns in the conduct of the Ad-Dujayl trial and whether those concerns are grounded in fact or law; and (3) substantive concerns regarding the IHT's ability to conduct trials fairly. …