[an error occurred while processing this directive]
BBC News
watch One-Minute World News
Last Updated: Friday, 23 December 2005, 16:26 GMT
Saddam's trial is not a farce

By John Simpson
BBC World Affairs Editor

It was never going to be easy to put a man as imperious and wily as Saddam Hussein on trial.

Saddam Hussein in court
Many Iraqis think Saddam has been given too much latitude in court

The chief judge has been remarkably lenient to Saddam and his half-brother, Barzan al-Tikriti, and they have taken advantage of this.

But does this mean, as some people in the Western media are starting to say, that the trial is descending into farce?

Simply because Saddam Hussein's trial is different from the court practices of, say, Britain or France, that does not make it farcical.

It is true that many Iraqis, including senior ministers in the government, believe that Saddam has been given too much latitude.

It is also true that Saddam often manages to distract everyone's attention, at a time when the evidence is particularly graphic and terrible.

Yet none of this means that the senior judge has lost control of his court.


Judge Rizgar Mohammed Amin is a quiet, polite, highly intelligent man, who wants the world to see that he dispenses a very different kind of justice from Saddam's own courts. In the old days the statue of justice outside the law faculty at Baghdad University was a figure of Saddam himself, holding a sword and scales.

Judge Rizgar Mohammed Amin
Judge Rizgar has worn Saddam down through sheer politeness

It would be easy to shout Saddam down, or silence him, but that would be to return to the habits of the past. Instead, the judge listens courteously to what is said.

And it works. At the start of the trial, Saddam refused even to give his name: "You know who I am," he told the judges aggressively. Yet by force of sheer politeness, Judge Rizgar wore him down.

And so when he was asked to plead, Saddam said he was not guilty - which represented a remarkable degree of co-operation from a man who had earlier denied that the court had any legitimacy.

Saddam Hussein could, if he chose, force the judges to silence him, and to treat him with brutality. All he has to do is to refuse to accept the usual conventions of courtroom behaviour.

But as long as Judge Rizgar treats his prisoners with leniency and politeness, they seem prepared to follow the rules.

Sign of success

The worst feature of the trial is not what the accused are allowed to say, but what the world is not allowed to hear.

The American company in charge of broadcasting the proceedings frequently blanks out the sound of what Saddam and the others say, and sometimes cuts the vision as well.

Iraqis demonstrate in support of Saddam in Dur, near his home town of Tikrit
Treating Saddam harshly would lead people to see him as a martyr

The impression of control and censorship is very strong - and yet the things which cannot be broadcast are often trivial enough.

Sometimes Saddam and his half-brother Barzan, use their opportunities cleverly.

Barzan, for instance, kept calling one of the prosecuting counsel "Comrade prosecutor". In the end the prosecutor got angry, and told him to stop. "Why, Comrade prosecutor?" Barzan asked. "You and I were comrades in the Ba'ath Party for so many years."

But such moments are rare. For the most part, Barzan comes across as a brute and a bully, while Saddam seems increasingly vague and inclined to wander in his wits.

The accusation that he had been tortured seems to have been made merely in order to distract attention from some particularly effective evidence about Saddam's methods of torture. He has never complained about being tortured before, although he has had plenty of opportunity.

If the judge treated Saddam more roughly, he would seem like a martyr. The fact that he does not is a sign of success, not of failure.

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites


Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific