BAGHDAD – Chris Reid, American Liaison to the Iraqi Tribunal, has been in Iraq for almost two years taking witness statements against Saddam Hussein and members of his regime.
An investigator, Reid helped the Iraqis set up the tribunal that is now trying the deposed dictator and seven members of his regime on charges that they killed 148 Shiites from Dujail after a failed assassination attempt in 1982.
Reid has been in court every day, working behind the scenes to help in the trial.
I interviewed Reid to discuss the first few days of the trial, which took place earlier this week.
Q: For the first week now, we’ve had real evidence in the case against Saddam Hussein. What would you say about the process so far?
Reid: Well, I think the judge right now is trying to strike a balance between making sure he is fair to the defendants, all the defendants have appropriate defense counsel. But also moving the process forward. The important thing is, we’ve had nine witnesses, and those witnesses have given very compelling testimony about what happened to them in Dujail and in prisons around Iraq after the Dujail incident, and I think the important thing is the judge is striking that balance. Being very fair. Giving some leeway to the defendants and defense counsel, but he’s moving the trial forward.
Q: Who’s in charge of the court? Saddam or the judge?
Reid: The judge is in charge. The judge is in charge. I think he’s giving Saddam a little bit of leeway, but as the days have progressed we’ve see that the various defendants are raising their hands to be recognized. This is a different process for people from the U.S. or U.K., it’s a civil law system, a search for the truth. And there’s always this process of asking questions .... There’s also the process of asking the defendants [to] comment, [to] suggest questions or comment on the evidence....
Q: You and I both know Saddam went way beyond that. He’s standing up telling the Judge to go to hell. Complaining about this, he goes off on tangents. What in general would you say about his antics so far?
Reid: Well, I think Saddam would like to see the court focused on everything but the evidence. You see antics and tactics, but in the end the evidence is coming in. And you see witnesses standing in court with Saddam right next to them testifying about the atrocities of the former regime. And for the Iraqi public to see Saddam sitting in the dock and people, brave people, willing to come into court and testify, it’s really an extraordinary thing.
Q: Would you describe his behavior as erratic? Is he in touch with reality? Does he understand he is on trial for his life?
Reid: I think he’s in touch with reality and he’s on trial for his life. But I think it’s a hard adjustment for him not being able to be the dictator he once was, torture these people who disagree with him, take this person out and have them killed. So it’s difficult not to be in charge.
Q: Is he gaming? I have used that term. Is he gaming the court a little, trying to delay, trying to throw a curveball every other day to disrupt the proceedings?
Reid: I think you do see some gaming and delaying tactics, but what the judge is doing is taking the evidence, having the witnesses come in. You know, we have only had a few days here, it’s a brand new court. And as things move on, the court would establish a rhythm, and you’ll continue to see the evidence coming in.
Q: I don’t think anyone would dispute there has been some stirring testimony in there about torture victims, what they went through, beaten with cables, electrocuted, seeing bodies, infants, babies.... Where is the smoking gun? When it comes to "Saddam did this"?
Reid: This is a crime against humanity case, and so what you’ve seen is evidence of a systematic and widespread attack on the civilian population. But some of the defendants will be judged on a command-response basis. And that basically means they ordered these crime against humanity, they knew about these crimes against humanity and didn’t take action to prevent action, or that they should have known about them and didn’t take action to prevent them. So you’re going to have to wait until all the witness comes in, all the documentary evidence.
Q: You’ve met a lot of victims?
Reid: I have.
Q: And you have heard them testify in court. What sent a shiver down your spine this week?
Reid: I think talking to Iraqis all around the country. It's hard to find an Iraqi who can’t say something like "that happened to a brother of mine, my father, me, my mother, my cousin," so the extraordinary thing about the Dujail case is not sort of this big grand hundreds of thousands of killed, it's this universal experience, a horrible crime against humanity, all Iraqis, all walks of life. In this case you are going to hear things you’ll hear in other cases, simply because they are part of a village, whether something happened, no proof that they had anything to do with, and certainly its hard to believe that this wide dragnet that they put out finding people was finding people responsible for any crime. It was just punishing a village for something that happened.
Q: One witness, a man, said, "Why…what did I ever do for this?" Four years of his life, taken away?
Reid: And it was simply because the village was being punished for what happened there. And you saw sort of some of the techniques the regime has used. Burning down orchards. Leveling houses. Taking whole families into custody and torturing men, women, children, using electric shock.... In prison, because of the terrible treatment, I thought that one of the moments that really showed how cruel and brutal the conditions were for these people was then the first witness said — there was one kind guard providing milk and water for the children to keep the children alive, and the men who were imprisoned with these children said you must torture us in front of the other guards because otherwise you will be removed and you wont be able to help our children.
People saying please torture us so that our children can be saved, that’s really chilling. But it’s also universal. This is something that went on throughout Saddam's regime all over Iraq.
Reporter's Note: U.S. sources predict the trial will last until sometime in February, and that Saddam will be brought to trial on a second case, the Al-Anfal campaign that killed 180,000 Kurds in northern Iraq. But they predict the trial will not be completed with Saddam still alive. The guilty verdict and sentence on the Dujail massacre will occur sometime into the second trial, and Saddam will be hanged before that trial is completed.