Sunday, December 21, 2008

Don't expect 'Chemical Ali' to get a fair trial

Does anyone believe the next trial of Iraq's notorious "Chemical Ali" will be fair and impartial? More likely, the next prosecution of Ali Hassan al-Majeed, known as Chemical Ali for ordering the use of poison gas to kill tens of thousands of Kurds in the 1980s and 1990s, will be like the "trial" and hanging of Saddam Hussein. The humiliating execution of the Iraqi president actually was an embarrassment for the government in Baghdad and its U.S. benefactors, because it was so unfair. No matter how terrible his administration was, civilized society demands civilized legal proceedings, not courts where all decisions have already been made, so the administration of justice is a public matter. Saddam was prevented from attending large portions of the trial even though his life was at stake, members of his legal team were assassinated and, no doubt, information known to the prosecution was withheld from his defense. But these are serious violations of rights the United States considers obvious, at least for its own people. If Iraq wants to become a member of the civilized nations' club, which it evidently does, it had better develop a trustworthy, and trusted, legal system. A third trial for Majeed, who has already been sentenced to death twice, according to the Reuters international news service, begins Friday before Iraq's High Tribunal in Halabja, scene of a 1988 gas attack that killed 5,000 Kurds. Majeed and three other high-ranking officials in Saddam's government heard prosecutors describe the gassing while relatives of the victims demonstrated outside, Reuters said. The Halabja trial is being overseen by Judge Mohammed al-Uraibi, a Shiite who presided over the first two trials, Reuters said. Also facing charges in the case are Sultan Hashem, a former defense minister, and two intelligence officers. Majeed already faces death sentences for his role in Saddam's military's "Anfal" campaign, which killed tens of thousands of Kurds, and for his part in crushing a Shiite revolt after the 1991 Gulf War.

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