Mohammed Azzam al-Ali

02.05.2016 ( Last modified: 08.11.2016 )
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facts

At the beginning of the 1980s, Mohammed Azzam al-Ali was a local Baath-party official for the region around the village of Dujail, some 60 km north of Baghdad.

The events in Dujail started to unroll on 8 July 1982 when Saddam Hussein visited the Shiite town to meet with tribal leaders. Dujail was a stronghold of the Shiite Dawa Party which carried out terrorist attacks in Iraq to protest against the war with Shiite Iran. The Dawa Party wanted to assassinate Saddam Hussein to avenge the death of one of its founders.

When Hussein’s motorcade entered the city, members of the Dawa party opened fire. A four hour battle ensued. Saddam Hussein was saved by his soldiers and army helicopters. He was said to have given assurances that there would be no retaliation. However, the secret service soon went into action: nearly 150 people killed. Hundreds of women and children were held in camps in the desert and the date plantations which formed the basis of the local economy and the livelihood of the families living there were destroyed. Some of the younger victims were only 13 years old.

Mohammed Azzam al-Ali and seven other former officials were put on trial before the Iraqi Special Tribunal on 19 October 2005.

legal procedure

Mohammed Azzam al-Ali was put on trial before the Iraqi Special Tribunal.

He was accused, together with seven other former officials (former president Saddam HusseinTaha Yassin Ramadan, Barzan Ibrahim Al-Tikriti, Awad Hamed Al-Bandar, Abdullah Kadem Rouaid, Ali Daeem Ali, Mezhar Abdullah Rouaid), of taking part in the killing of 140 Shiite inhabitants of the village of Dujail, 60 km north of Baghdad, in July 1982. The main count with which he was charged was that of crimes against humanity according to article 12 of the statute of the Iraqi Special Tribunal, approved on 10 December 2003.

Trial proceedings started on 19 October 2005. From the very first day, Mohammed Azzam al-Ali pleaded not guilty. If convicted, he was liable to face the death penalty.

At the request of the defence lawyers, the trial was adjourned until 28 November 2005 to allow more time for the preparation of the defence.

In the weeks following the first audience, serious security concerns for the defence team of Hussein and the other accused became apparent. Some 36 hours after the first hearing, a group of unidentified armed men dragged one of the attorneys from his office in east Baghdad and shot him dead. A few days later, a second lawyer was killed in a drive-by shooting, and a third, injured in that attack, subsequently fled Iraq for sanctuary in Qatar.

As a consequence, calls for the trial to be held abroad were heard. The defence lawyers, supported by the Iraqi Bar Association, imposed a boycott on the trial, until their security concerns were met with specific measures.

A few days before the trial was set to resume, the defence team announced that it had accepted offers of protection from Iraqi and American officials and would appear in Court on 28 November. The agreement was said to include the same level of protection that was offered to the Iraqi judges and Prosecutors, with measures such as armoured cars and teams of bodyguards.

After a short Court session on 28 November 2005, during which some testimony regarding the killings in Dujail was presented, Judge Rizgar Mohammed Amin ordered a one-week adjournment until 5 December, to grant the defence teams time to find new counsel after one of their lawyers had been killed and another had fled Iraq.

On 12 March 2006, the Prosecutor announced that if Saddam Hussein and his seven co-defendants were sentenced to death in the Dujail case, the sentence would be carried out as soon as possible. Thus, the other cases for which they were indicted would not be heard in court.

On 19 June 2006, the Prosecutor indeed asked the court, in his closing arguments, that the death penalty be imposed upon three of the defendants, Taha Yassine Ramadan, Saddam Hussein and Barzan al-Tikriti.

The trial was adjourned after the closing arguments of the defence on26 July 2006.

On 5 November 2006, Mohammed Azzam al-Ali was acquitted.

context

The Iraqi special tribunal is a hybrid tribunal created on the 10th December 2003 in Bagdad by the coalition provisional authorities which were government established after the invasion of Iraq in 2003. The mission of this tribunal is to judge acts of genocide and crimes against humanity as well as war crimes committed between 17 July 1968 and the 1st May 2003, the period covering the political regime of the Baas party. It is therefore aimed specifically at crimes committed by Iraqis in the aforementioned period notably those committed during the war against Iran (1980 – 1988) and the invasion of Kuwait (1990-1991).

The Iraqi special tribunal was created in the context of the Iraq war (also known as the Gulf war) that began on the 20th March 2003 by operation “Iraqi Freedom.” The operation involved the invasion of Iraq by the coalition. It was conducted by the United States, the United Kingdom and the international coalition in order to overthrow the Baas party of Saddam Hussain. The Baas party originating in Damascus in 1947 came to power in Iraq in 1963 but it was only due to a coup of 17th July 1968 that it definitively seized power until 2003. When Saddam Hussein came to power on the 16th July 1979 the party changed significantly and militarised itself. By organising itself into various cells throughout the country the party became strongly resistant in the face of hardship. The United States have been the leaders of the war in Iraq and many reasons for the war have been officially cited by the government of G.W Bush; the fight against terrorism, the elimination of weapons of mass destruction that Iraq was supposed to hold; the arrest of Saddam Hussein, to mention only the main ones. After a rapid defeat of the Iraqi army at the end of April 2003 and the capture of Saddam Hussein, the coalition and Iraq tried to establish a transitional democratic government representing all the Iraqi communities. The coalition also aimed to try members of the Baas party that had been captured.

In close collaboration with the American department of justice to which he reports directly, Paul Bremer, (Iraqi second civil administrator) established by decree the statute of the Special Iraqi tribunal on the 10th December 2003. The United States have awarded more than $100 million to ensure the “construction of the courtroom, conduct exhumations, study the documents seized, the preparation of evidence and the training of the tribunal’s members”.

The statute of the tribunal is a mix of two existing forms of procedure, inspired strongly by American adversarial law as well as Egyptian law which is essentially inquisitorial. If the statute is deemed to be insufficient it explicitly states that the Iraqi penal code of 1971 is to be used. The statute of the tribunal introduced alongside the Iraqi penal legislation a number of crimes taken from statutes of other international criminal courts in order to incriminate the former dictator Saddam Hussein and other members of the regime, namely genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes. Furthermore, each time that one of these crimes does not have a corresponding match in the Iraqi penal order, the statute authorises the tribunal judges themselves to determine the sentence taking into account the gravity of the crime, the individual characteristics of the accused and international jurisprudence. With regards to its composition, the Iraqi special tribunal consists of 20 attorneys contracted for 3 years, 3 chambers composed of 9 permanent judges appointed for 5 years, a court of appeal composing of 9 judges and 20 judges appointed for 3 years. It is formed solely of Iraqi judges of which a certain number have denounced from the beginning the pressure exerted by the provisional government. Some judges have been the victims of threats, of removal and even of assassination.

Whilst being discredited from the beginning as rendering winners justice, the Iraqi special tribunal had the means to quickly realise its central objective, that of judging the ex head of state Saddam Hussein as well as the main representatives of the Baas regime. In addition to genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes, the tribunal also had jurisdiction to try cases relating to the manipulation of judges, squandering national resources and the use of the Iraqi army against another Arab state. All of these charges were on the indictment for the first trial.

The first trial which took place in front of the tribunal was the trial of Saddam Hussein judged alongside seven of his lieutenants on the 19th October 2003. There were doubts concerning the fairness of the trial in regard to the conditions under which the trial began. Several Human Rights organisations one being Human Rights Watch have condemned technical and financial limits placed on the defence which risked hindering their work in comparison with the support received by the prosecution. Another issue which was the subject of controversy was the re-establishment of the death penalty on the 30th June 2004, which was abolished in 2003 by Paul Bremer. Despite the position today in international law being clearly abolitionist, several death sentences were passed early on culminating with the hanging of Saddam Hussein in December 2006 which was voluntarily made public. After said hanging the tribunal has continued and continues today to prosecute the former members of the Baas government.

At present, the Iraqi special tribunal is still evolving in the context of a political crises and repeated attacks. The execution on 25 January 2010 of “Chemical Ali”, Saddam Hussein’s cousin seems to have revived the movements against religious minorities present in Iraq.