Is justice served in Iraq with Saddam’s conviction?

After 24 years of tyranny and hundreds of thousands of deaths to his account, former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein has been sentenced by an Iraqi court to death by hanging for his role in the killing of 148 people in 1982. However, there are differing reactions to the verdict from his victims, supporters and various members of the international community as to whether justice has indeed been served.

The court found that Saddam and his fellow defendants had ordered the villagers’ murder after members of a Shi’ite political party tried to kill the former president in the town of Dujail in 1982. Saddam was found guilty of the torture, illegal imprisonment and executions of the 148 men, as well as the arrest and torture of others and the confiscation and razing of their farmlands. Nine people were killed during the destruction of orchards, and many of the 399 people who had been detained were either killed or remain missing. In a speech at the end of a day of hearings in March 2006, Saddam admitted ordering the Dujail trials and said that he alone as head of state should be held accountable for the charges. Some documents indicated that about 50 of those sentenced to be executed had actually died during interrogation before they could go to the gallows. In the first months of the trial, a series of Dujail residents testified that they were imprisoned and tortured and that their relatives were killed. Several women related how they were stripped naked, beaten or given electric shocks.

According to Iraqi law, Saddam is entitled to an automatic appeal against his conviction. His case will be sent to the appeals court tomorrow, where it will be reviewed by a panel of judges, who will decide whether or not to allow a retrial. If the judgement stands, however, Saddam must be executed within 30 days of the appeals panel delivering its verdict.

This is just the first conviction in a series of trials lined up for Saddam. Next Tuesday, Saddam returns to the dock for a much larger trial in which he is accused of killing as many as 180,000 Kurds in the late 1988 in Anfal. However, he is likely to be executed before this next case is completed.

Although the news of Saddam’s conviction was welcomed by many Iraqis and world leaders, Saddam’s supporters in his hometown of Tikrit, defied a curfew to voice support for him and to denounce the verdict.

Since, Iraqi law states that an executed criminal cannot be tried for other crimes and the charges must be dropped, some Kurds might feel they have been denied justice because the court will not find out the truth about Saddam’s alleged genocide against them.

Human rights organisation Amnesty International, which opposes the death penalty, issued a statement that they “deplore the verdict of the death penalty” on the basis that it was not a fair trial.

Some countries which oppose the death penalty appeared torn between on one hand applauding the guilty verdict and on the other hand condemning the death penalty. Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodrguez Zapatero, who withdrew Spanish troops from Iraq following his election, said that Saddam had to “answer for his actions”, but reiterated the European Union’s opposition to the death penalty.

– Al Jazeera, BBC News, CNN and agencies

Author: Gerald Giam

Gerald Giam is the Member of Parliament for Aljunied GRC. He is a member of the Workers' Party of Singapore. The opinions expressed on this page are his alone.