By David Loyn
BBC News, Baghdad
The advocacy group Human Rights Watch (HRW) has unveiled a damning indictment of the trial of Saddam Hussein, saying it was so flawed the verdict was unsound.
Saddam Hussein's trial did not meet fair trial standards, HRW says
The HRW researchers have concluded that Saddam Hussein and his co-accused did not get a fair trial.
Their specific complaints go right through the court process: the administration of the trial was not done well; and witness protection was not good enough.
Some witnesses were frightened to come forward, while the judges constantly had the "sword at their necks" of being exposed as Baath party members.
This was a "trial by ambush", one interviewee said, in which incriminating documents were not disclosed to the defence until the day that the document was used in court by the prosecution, nor did the prosecution disclose material that might have pointed towards innocence.
And there was a violation of the defendants' right to challenge witnesses.
The report quotes asides from the judges that show contempt for the defence, and assume the guilt of the defendants.
Did the Iraqi government try to influence the verdict?
It criticises government ministers too for pre-judging the outcome and failing to understand the need for the judiciary to be independent.
The report is critical of defence lawyers for using the court as a political platform and staging walkouts. But it recognises the problems they had.
Two were killed and others did not have adequate protection, and the material they were given was not well organised, often illegible and late.
The conclusion is stark: "The result is a trial that did not meet key fair
trial standards. Under such circumstances, the soundness of the verdict is
"In addition, the imposition of the death penalty - an inherently cruel and inhumane punishment - in the wake of an unfair trial is indefensible."
The head of Saddam's defence team, Khalil al-Dulaimi, says that his lawyers have been denied access to the court in the Green Zone, the heavily-fortified international area at the heart of Baghdad, since the verdict.
Speaking from Jordan, he told the BBC that "the court has not yet given us any decision about the appeal, despite our repeated demands and requests".
He claimed that the prosecution were using delaying tactics in order to make a proper appeal impossible.
In response to the HRW report, he said it confirmed his view that the trial was victor's justice.
"The report of HRW confirms all the statements we gave about the trial, that it is a political trial, and doesn't meet any condition of a just court," he said.
But the chief prosecutor, Jafaar al-Mousawi, said it was a fair trial. He acknowledged that HRW had observed the whole trial, but said that they had not approached him to see papers that might refute their findings.
The disappointment of HRW is the greater because of what they perceive as the international importance of this trial and the one currently under way for alleged attacks on Kurds.
A chance to record the abuses of the regime may have been lost
The report says: "The significance of the trials is difficult to overstate.
"For the first time since the post-Second World War Nuremberg trials, almost the entire senior leadership cadre of a long-lived repressive government faces trial for gross human rights violations committed during their tenure."
But the report concludes that the court did not take account of this international significance, and seemed unaware of international practice.
Supporters of war crimes trials say that they can improve healing after conflict and draw a line under the past - but like so much else in post-Saddam Iraq, his trial does not look as if it will achieve that lofty ambition.