Tuesday, February 21, 2006

No "Smoking Gun" at Saddam's Trial

A few days ago I mentioned a report that prosecutors had produced written orders by Saddam ordering the execution of 140 Shiites in Dujail in 1982 -- the proverbial "smoking gun." As it turns out, the documents are not so damning after all. According to the AP, the prosecution produced two documents at trial Feb. 13-14: one that shows Saddam signing off on bonuses for security agents who investigated the attempt on his life; and one that shows Saddam approved of death sentences for Dujail residents. Although both documents strengthen the prosecution's case, neither prove that that Saddam knew of or ordered the Dujail massacre:

Documents submitted last week include Saddam's approval of a recommendation allegedly made by Barzan Ibrahim, his half brother and co-defendant, to reward intelligence officers for their "confrontation against subversive and armed elements ... in the Dujail area."

However, that could simply be referring to their role in the gunfight that followed the attempt on Saddam's life in July 1982 -- or the rounding up of suspects who were later tortured and killed. Ibrahim was chief of intelligence in 1982.

Similarly, Saddam's approval of death sentences handed down by the Revolutionary Court against Shiites from Dujail could not prove incriminating unless there is compelling evidence that Saddam knew the defendants were railroaded.

Also, orders for arrests or transfers of detainees from one facility to another mean little unless the prosecution can prove that Saddam knew they would be tortured.

"There is nothing in these documents that show anything beside President Saddam exercising his constitutional authorities," said Khamis al-Obeidi, one of Saddam's retained defense lawyers. "As president, he ratifies death sentences and approves promotions."

The chief prosecutor, Ja'afar Moussawi, has promised to introduce an even more damning document -- a communication between Saddam and the intelligence agency -- when the trial resumes on February 28th. Stay tuned.

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