Interview by: Ranj Sangawi
In his first interview with the media since he sentenced Saddam Hussein to death in 2006, Judge Rauf Rashid rejects claims that the trial of the former Iraqi dictator and key members of his top staff was a political show. He remembers Saddam as an intelligent, meticulous and charismatic person, with a remarkable memory and excellent knowledge of the law and the Quran. Rashid says that during the trial Saddam played to the galleries, behaving one way when television cameras were on, and differently as soon as the broadcasts were stopped. Here is his full interview with Rudaw:
Rudaw: A Sunni leader was sentenced to death by a Kurdish judge, on a Shiite dossier. Does this indicate that the whole trial was a show and an effort to keep Iraq’s political balance?
Rauf Rashid: Some people might make this interpretation for political reasons. However, as far as the judicial system is concerned no such thing exists. An investigation team and a court were formed. The court was named The Special Iraqi Tribunal (IST). IST was composed of a judge, several assistants and a number of prosecutors.
The first dossier that was taken up by the tribunal was the Dujail case. It is true that this case was a minor one compared to the Anfal, the gas attack on Halabja (in 1988), the Barzanis case (in 1983), and the massacre of the Shiites in the south (in 1991).
In the Dujail case, it is true that most of the victims were Shiites but they had Sunnis among them too.
In the Dujail case, it is true that most of the victims were Shiites but they had Sunnis among them too. In Dujail, according to the investigation reports, there were Sunni neighborhoods too. However, most of the people who were punished were from the Shiite community.
Rudaw: But the question is: why was Dujail chosen to punish a person like Saddam Hussein who had committed many crimes against humanity? Also, why was his trial and execution carried out in such an expedited manner, while many major crimes were not discussed or investigated? Did this question ever occur to you?
Rauf Rashid: This question does not occur to a judge. Like I said, this dossier was investigated before the other cases. Initially, this dossier was given to the Primary Crime Investigation Team. Later, the head of the team resigned, and then the case was handed to the Secondary Crime Investigation Team. In the tribunal there were three teams. Moreover, the dossier was not related to the Shiite-Sunni issues. The tribunal was international, but an Iraqi court.
Rudaw: Was it an Iraqi tribunal or an American tribunal with Iraqi judges?
Rauf Rashid: No, it was a tribunal established based on a number of legislations from the Security Council.
Rudaw: What about some claims made by the Arab media who said America was an occupying force and therefore could not establish a special tribunal?
The tribunal was not established by America.
Rauf Rashid: The tribunal was not established by America. It was established based on decisions from the Security Council. I read you the laws. The continuity of the trial was dependent on the cases that had an international character. The crimes that fall under international crime category according to the Rome Convention are four major crimes: genocide, massacre, torture, and war crimes. Any country, any leader or group that commits any one of the abovementioned crimes are to be tried by international laws. Our court was like -- or may be more than -- the ones in Rhodesia and Rwanda. As I said, the tribunal came as the second tribunal following that of the Yugoslavia. The tribunal was international. The judges were Iraqis. The judges went through an extensive training on the International Crimes laws.
Rudaw: So the court was not under American pressure?
Rauf Rashid: America was the occupying force in Iraq. The Security Council decrees were handed to the Iraqi authority. The implementation of these laws was under US supervision, since America was responsible for the security of Iraq.
Rudaw: Did this allow America to interfere in the court affairs?
Rauf Rashid: No, never. In the court they had a legal consultant. The legal consultant would only give legal advice on international laws.
Rudaw: What did the presence in court of an American lawyer -- who was a cabinet secretary in a former US administration -- mean to you?
Rauf Rashid: According to the law the defendants were allowed to have local and international lawyers. A number of Arab lawyers from Qatar and other Arab countries came to voluntarily represent the defendants. Also, some lawyers came from Europe and the US. The American lawyer’s presence in the court was highly connected to financial rewards.
The American lawyer’s presence in the court was highly connected to financial rewards.
Rudaw: Who assumed the financial responsibility of the trial?
Rauf Rashid: There were two categories of lawyers for the defendants. Those who were hired by the defendants; they were paid by the defendants themselves. But the defendants who did not have a lawyer, the court had allocated a budget to hire solicitors for them, until they managed to hire one of their own. As soon as the defendants hired their lawyers, the solicitors’ job would end.
Rudaw: In one of the sessions you became quite angry and evicted the American lawyer. Why?
Rauf Rashid: First, he was ignorant of the rules and codes of the court. And second…
Rudaw: Why? Is that because he was defending Saddam Hussein?
Rauf Rashid: No. He did not have knowledge on the tribunal. He did not know much about the International Criminal Laws either. He was not familiar with the principles of the court. He would come into the court just to show off and preach. He was not the only one. There were others, too, who would come into the court just to show off.
Rudaw: In the trial the defendants were treated in several different ways. Sometimes, they faced harsh treatment from you, to the point of yelling and pointing fingers at them. Was it appropriate?
Judges cannot allow defendants to impose their way on the courtroom.
Rauf Rashid: Judges cannot allow defendants to impose their way on the courtroom. The judge must not allow murmuring and noise in the courtroom during the trial. The judge cannot allow the defendant to show that he or she is the one who is trying the judges, and act as if he owns the courtroom. As I said earlier, a judge has the legal power to dismiss anyone in the courtroom who is behaving contrary to the court rules. First, the judge warns the person to behave accordingly. If the person ignores the judge’s warning and continues on creating an unfavorable situation, then the judge can ask him/her to leave the courtroom. If this was not possible, then the judge can end the court session in order to control the situation.
Rudaw: You were criticized for adopting a very disciplinary method in running the trial. What is your response?
Rauf Rashid: Let me tell you. I was playing my role whenever it was needed to end the noise in the courtroom. When the courtroom was in order and silent, the sessions were carried out in its normal manner. Let me add that the defendants knew the trial session was being broadcasted.
Rudaw: They were taking advantage of the broadcast?
Rauf Rashid: Yes. They knew people were watching. The judge can expel the attendants in the court if there was disorder in the court. The judge can make the session a secret session. He or she can also halt the broadcast. For your information, whenever I would stop the broadcast the defendants, among them Hussein, would say I will be silent and calm, but do not stop the broadcast. But after resuming the live broadcast they would return to the same situation.
Rudaw: So Saddam Hussein was exploiting the cameras?
whenever I would stop the broadcast the defendants, among them Hussein, would say I will be silent and calm, but do not stop the broadcast.
Rauf Rashid: Yes, he was. There was another thing; the Americans (who were organizing the sessions) were broadcasting the trial to America, Australia, Africa, Japan, Canada and Europe. They were not happy when the broadcast was halted. They would lose money.
Rudaw: How was Saddam’s behavior when you would stop the broadcast?
Rauf Rashid: He was calm and listening. Sometimes, he would ask me for papers to write his notes. I allowed him to have papers. He would write his notes in detail.
Hussein was a different person when the cameras were rolling and when they were off. On camera Saddam was a person raising his voice, pointing fingers, and chanting slogans. The off camera Hussein was a person who raised his hand for permission to talk, and would say “please”. But as soon as the broadcast would start he would begin calling the judge names. He had this double character.
Rudaw: Did Saddam have the kind of charisma that could place others under his spell?
Rauf Rashid: Yes, he was a careful man. He was smart and had benefited from his life experience. When he was talking off the cameras, he was very calculated in his words.
Rudaw: He wrote some poems at the time. Did you read any of them?
Rauf Rashid: Yes, some of them.
Rudaw: Were they good poems?
Rauf Rashid: They were personal. They were reflecting his mental state at that time.
Rudaw: Did they reflect his feeling?
Rauf Rashid: Yes. His poems spoke of himself. When you read his poems, you could not believe they were written by the Hussein who ruled Iraq in the manner he did. That is why I say he had two personalities.
Rudaw: What did he miss? Did you talk about such things?
He was smart and had benefited from his life experience. When he was talking off the cameras, he was very calculated in his words.
Rauf Rashid: He did not regret anything he had done.
Rudaw: You never saw regret in his face?
Rauf Rashid: No.
Rudaw: Did you ask him about this, before you reached this conclusion?
Rauf Rashid: Yes, I did. Not only in that dossier. We were with him for five cases. He never showed regret in any one of them.
Rudaw: Did he admit he made mistakes?
Rauf Rashid: No, he did not. His mindset was that, since he was the president of the country he was the protector of the laws in the homeland. He was the preserver of the Baathist ruling laws. He believed anyone who stood against him -- Shiite or Sunni -- was doing enmity against him. And he believed his rivals were encouraged by the external actors. He had his own mindset and perspective on the things. He would not divert from that mindset.
Rudaw: What kind of perspective was it? Was it a nationalist or a sectarian perspective?
Rauf Rashid: He was an Arab nationalist.
Rudaw: Was he familiar with the Quranic verses? Was he able to use them in his advantage?
Rauf Rashid: Yes. He was very good in that aspect. He was very intelligent. He was very capable in that regard.
Rudaw: Define Hussein’s mental state, in one sentence.
Rauf Rashid: He was a man who had the ability to impose himself in a gathering. In the normal context, he was an emotional man. He would cry sometimes, as long as he knew there were no cameras around.
His mindset was that, since he was the president of the country he was the protector of the laws in the homeland.
Rudaw: Did you ever see him in tears?
Rauf Rashid: I have seen his eyes well up while talking.
Rudaw: Did he have legal intelligence?
Rauf Rashid: Yes, he did.
Rudaw: Was he able to play around the legal terms?
Rauf Rashid: He was very capable. He was also playing with the terms linguistically.
Rudaw: Did you feel like he was actually a law school graduate, as claimed by some that he had studied law in Cairo?
Rauf Rashid: I was not aware of that. However, compared to his men he had good knowledge of the law.
Compared to his men he had good knowledge of the law.
Rudaw: Did he ever talk about how he heard the news of the death of his sons?
Rauf Rashid: Never. We did not ask him about that subject and he did not bring it up. This issue was not related to us. It’s not appropriate for a judge to talk about personal matters.
Rudaw: Did he look like a father of dead children?
Rauf Rashid: No, I did not see that in him.
Rudaw: Was he inconsistent in his thoughts?
Rauf Rashid: No. He was a very smart man. He would not forget things. He was very aware. He remembered all the events. Often he would correct his lawyers. I have often seen him writing notes when his lawyers were talking. When I was looking at the papers, sometimes I would see the lawyers were mistaken, but Saddam’s account was correct.
Rudaw: Was fame the motive of any of the lawyers who participated in the trial?
Rauf Rashid: Maybe some of the lawyers did not think that the trial would continue and end up with such a verdict. They did not believe the state of Iraq would implement such a verdict anyway. As the sessions proceeded and more events came to light the number of lawyers decreased. At the end of the trial only one Iraqi lawyer remained with him. Two of lawyers were very decent lawyers. They disappeared. After a while we learned they were killed in the marketplace.
Maybe some of the lawyers did not think that the trial would continue and end up with such a verdict.
Rudaw: Saddam ruled this country for a long time. Therefore, all aspects of his life are interesting to the people. Saddam appeared with a Quran at all the times when on camera. But did he have his Quran with him when not on camera, outside the sessions, and in the normal times? Was he really a pious person?
Rauf Rashid: Only God knows who is a true believer. However, as far as I noticed he had the Quran with him when he would come in and leave. A few times he complained that outside the court he was not allowed to have his Quran with him. One time they had taken the Quran away from him. He asked to have the Quran returned to him. We decided to return the Quran back to him. One member of the judicial team said this Quran might become a property of the court; therefore he does not have to have this particular Quran at all the times. Let’s give him a different Quran. I said no. This Quran belongs to him and it’s not a problem for him to keep it. Return the Quran to him.
As soon as he would enter the courtroom he had his Quran with him. Whether he had it with him outside the court or not, I did not follow up on that. It was not important to me.