Academic journal article Case Western Reserve Journal of International Law

Transcript: Trying Saddam: An Insider's Perspective

Academic journal article Case Western Reserve Journal of International Law

Transcript: Trying Saddam: An Insider's Perspective

Article excerpt

The Frederick K. Cox International Law Center sponsored the symposium, "Lessons from the Saddam Trial," a conference drawing renowned international law scholars and practitioners to Case Western Reserve University School of Law in Cleveland, Ohio on October 6, 2006 to share their expert analysis of the historic first case before the Iraqi High Tribunal. The speakers' remarks have been edited for length.


It is an honor to stand here among such distinguished guests to talk about the tribunal in Iraq. In fact, I was surprised to be invited because this is a panel of experts at the law school. I am not a lawyer, and I am not an expert. So to start with, I was daunted by this challenge. The best I can do is to try and give a perspective from an Iraqi point of view, how Iraqis regard this process, how they perceive this tribunal, how they feel about it, and whether they recognize it as justice for the tyrant that dominated their lives for decades.

To put this in context properly, I would like to take a historical perspective of Iraq. Many people think Iraq is a backward country, lawless, and totally without any sense of legal propriety. Let us remember the first written law was actually promulgated in Iraq, and--let us also remember that for many, many years the rest of the world learned about how laws can be written because in Iraq writing itself was born. To go into this a little further, into more recent times, when the Ottoman Empire was crumbling in its last death throws, there was a movement called the constitutional movement.

It was an attempt to give legitimacy to the sultans by creating a constitution, and by binding the sultan to that constitution. It was "too little, too late" but not before it inspired a group of Iraqis in Bagdad to demand that their first government to be installed by the British, should be bound by a constitution. And there was a constitutional movement in Bagdad, which petitioned many people outside Iraq, including President Wilson of the United States who was considered by Iraqis to be a supporter of democracy worldwide.

In Iraq, the first woman lawyer graduated in 1935 ahead of all our neighbors. It was at a time when some of our neighbors did not even have primary schooling for girls. And in Iraq, the first judge was appointed in the region. In 1948, when the Bill of Human Rights was being debated at the United Nations, it was the Iraqi delegate who held out for gender equality to be enshrined in the Bill of Human Rights. So we have a tradition of respect for law and a respect for the rule of law and a tradition for binding the ruler by a constitution and a law.

However, we allowed Saddam to reverse all that, and during Saddam's time, there was a regression in Iraq on all levels. What we witnessed throughout the region and possibly internationally was a monumental, not entirely unfamiliar struggle between the concept of rule of law and the concept of absolute power, and this struggle takes many forms. And obviously, it is not resolved.

In Iraq, Saddam took us violently and determinedly backward as he established absolute power, and the country moved back socially, politically, economically, and culturally. On every front, the country went backwards. He drove Iraq back into the days of darkness of the Middle Ages. People who were educated, who did not ascribe to his ways, were either murdered or they left the country. Many Iraqis have lived outside of Iraq for decades now because of that. So now is the time of reckoning. When Saddam was removed, there were greater relations. In fact, even the people who were most active in opposition during Saddam's regime, including myself, never realized how terrible the crimes [were that he committed]. They were scared of atrocities to the extent of which have begun to be revealed only after Saddam was removed. Although we all knew about Halabja; we knew about Anfal; we knew about mass killings; we never imagined the gigantic scale of these crimes. …

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