Saddam judge threatens to quit

BAGHDAD (Reuters) — The judge trying Saddam Hussein has tendered his resignation, a source said on Saturday, making a protest at political interference and casting new doubt on the US-backed Iraqi government’s ability to ensure a fair trial.
High tribunal officials were trying to talk Kurdish judge Rizgar Amin out of his decision, the source close to the judge told Reuters, adding Amin was reluctant to stay because Shiite leaders had criticised him for being “soft” on Saddam in court.

“He tendered his resignation to the court a few days ago but the court rejected it. Now talks are under way to convince him to go back on his decision,” the source said. “He’s under a lot of pressure, the whole court is under political pressure.” “He had complaints from the government that he was being too soft in dealing with Saddam Hussein and his co-defendants. They [government leaders] want things to go faster.” Technically the departure of the presiding magistrate on the five-judge panel can be overcome by appointing a substitute, but Amin’s complaints about government interference may in the long-term affect the credibility of the trial.

The killing of two defence lawyers had already highlighted problems with the process amid a virtual civil war between Saddam’s fellow minority Sunni Arabs and the US-sponsored government, run by Shiite Muslims and ethnic Kurds intent on quickly hanging a man they say massacred their peoples.

International human rights lawyers have urged US officials and the new Iraqi government to send Saddam and his aides to an international court abroad while the defence has branded the proceedings “victor’s justice” imposed under occupation.

“The defence team has long warned about the dangers of political pressure that has undermined the court’s independence and integrity,” Saddam’s chief attorney, Khalil Dulaimi, said.

“We expect the political pressures to mount on the court after … the farce it has turned out to be,” he told Reuters.

Miranda Sissons, who has observed the trial for the New York-based International Centre for Transitional Justice, said that if Amin quit: “Public faith in the tribunal will have disappeared … It will be a signal to the Iraqi public that political pressure on the tribunal has had an effect.”

The source close to Amin said: “There’s too much pressure … it is a question of integrity … I am not sure if he will go back on his decision. I don’t think it’s possible.” Amin, 48, told Reuters in November his family was worried about him and he had taken on two bodyguards after pressure from friends. But he stressed: “A judge should never be afraid.” Spokesmen for the high tribunal were not available for comment on a weekend following the Eid Al Adha holiday. In the first trial, which has sat for seven days since Oct. 19 and is due to resume on Jan. 24, Saddam and seven others are charged with crimes against humanity in the deaths of over 140 Shiite men after an assassination attempt on Saddam in 1982.

After hearings last month, some observers criticised Amin for allowing Saddam to speak at length, making allegations, including of maltreatment at American hands.

The judge, whose dry wit and courteous manner have been features of the proceedings so far, rejected the criticism and insisted the defence should have a fair hearing.

A Shiite cleric was killed in Baghdad and a Sunni cleric was shot dead on his way to lead prayers in the rebel bastion of Ramadi, where tensions have emerged between supporters and opponents of engagement with the US-backed political process.

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