Iraqi Government Interferes with the Cassation Panel

Iraqi Government Interferes with the Cassation Panel

The Iraqi government’s assault on the independence and objectivity of the IHT continues. The trial court was its first target: not only did Iraqi President Jalal Talabani tell reporters on the eve of the Dujail trial that Saddam had signed a written confession and “deserve[d] to be executed 20 times a day for his crimes against humanity,” high-ranking officials forced Judge Amin to resign by continually accusing him of being soft on Saddam. And now the government is targeting the Cassation Panel, currently deciding Saddam’s appeal:

The defence team of deposed Iraqi president Saddam Hussein on Thursday accused the Iraqi authorities of attempts to “influence” the decision of the Cassation Court, which was due to examine the legality of the death verdicts passed on the former dictator and two of his top aides in the Dujail case.

The Amman-based panel referred to a “flurry of statements by Iraqi officials over the past few days that involved a new violation of the principles of justice and fair trial.”

“All the comments which were carried by news agencies, newspapers and satellite TV stations lead up to the same conclusion that the Cassation Court will confirm the death sentences passed against the President and his comrades,” the defence team said in a statement to the media.

The statement also quoted the prosecution of the special Iraqi court which handed the verdicts as saying the sentence of life imprisonment passed on the former Iraqi vice president Taha Yassin Ramadan would be elevated to the death penalty.

These efforts reflect one of the primary weaknesses of the IHT: its lack of structural or practical autonomy from the executive. As I discuss at length — shameless plug alert! — in my essay on the Tribunal, Article 4(Fourth) of the IHT Statute is particularly problematic, because it gives the Presidency Council the unreviewable authority to remove a judge from the Tribunal “for any reason.” The threat of removal almost certainly played a role in Judge Amin’s decision to resign from the Dujail trial, and in October the Presidency Council used its authority under Article 4(Fourth) to remove one of the judges from the Anfal trial.

I doubt that the newest government comments will have much impact on the Cassation Panel’s decision, if only because it’s unlikely that the Panel will take Saddam’s appeal seriously in the first place. If it does affirm the convictions, though, the comments will provide yet another reason to question the IHT’s credibility — the last thing the Tribunal needs.

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