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Human rights group wants Saddam verdict overturned

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Diane Sweet
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A human rights group is calling for the conviction of former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein to be reversed, RAW STORY has learned.

Citing many procedural and substantive flaws, the advocacy group Human Rights Watch declared in a 97-page report released Sunday that the trial of Saddam Hussein was unfair and that the court should overturn the guilty verdict.

"The proceedings in the Dujail trial were fundamentally unfair," said Nehal Bhuta of the International Justice program at Human Rights Watch and author of the report. "The tribunal squandered an important opportunity to deliver credible justice to the people of Iraq. And its imposition of the death penalty after an unfair trial is indefensible."

The report, "Judging Dujail: The First Trial Before the Iraqi High Tribunal" - which is based on 10 months of observation and dozens of interviews with judges, prosecutors, and defense lawyers and is the most comprehensive analysis to date of the trial - details its allegedly serious flaws:

" Regular failure to disclose key evidence, including exculpatory evidence, to the defense in advance

" Violations of the defendants' basic fair trial right to confront witnesses against them

" Lapses of judicial demeanor that undermined the apparent impartiality of the presiding judge

" Important gaps in evidence that undermine the persuasiveness of the prosecution case and put in doubt whether all the elements of the crimes charged were established.

The group also indicated a need for programs to ensure the safety of defense witnesses, and attorneys, as well as programs to explain the legal process to the Iraqi people.

The Dujail trial commenced before the Iraqi High Tribunal in Baghdad on October 19, 2005, and ended on July 27, 2006, with a verdict announced on November 5, 2006. Saddam Hussein and two other defendants were sentenced to death by hanging, and four defendants received prison terms ranging from 15 years to life. One defendant was acquitted at the prosecution's request. The verdict and sentences are currently being appealed to the Appeals Chamber.

The report further argues that unless the Iraqis allow experienced international judges and trial lawyers to participate directly in the court system, not only will Saddam's trial be flawed and conducted unfairly, but any future trials as well.

Saddam Hussein has two more weeks to lodge an appeal but - according to statements made by his lawyer - he has been blocked from doing so.

The chief prosecutor in Saddam's case insists that the convicted defendant was given a fair trial.

originally published in RawStory.com
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