What ever happened to the Iraqi High Tribunal trials?

There once was a time, not too many months ago, when the media and public was absolutely fixated by the trials of the Iraqi High Tribunal.  Following Saddam’s execution at the end of the Dujail trial in December, however, media coverage has been just about non-existent.

On Sunday, May 6, 2007, the Anfal trial will re-commence with the presentation of the defense case.  Chances are we won’t read, hear, or see much about it in the media, despite the fact that the Anfal trial is a far more important case than was the Dujail trial.

There are two explanations for the absence of media attention.  The first is that Saddam Hussein was the show, and now that he is gone the media believe the public no longer cares enough about these trials to justify the expense and security risks of sending a broadcast team to Baghdad.  Second, the media has largely concluded that the Iraqi High Tribunal trials are not fair enough to merit continuing coverage.

As to the first, the main defendant in the Anfal trial — Chemical Ali — is every bit as bombastic (and entertaining) as Saddam was during the Dujail trial.  Case in point: in a moment reminiscent of Jack Nicolson’s scene-stealing performance in “A Few Good Men,” during the prosecution’s case in chief Chemical Ali admitted he had ordered the use of chemical weapons against the Kurds, saying it was the right thing to do.  And unlike Saddam, who was (merely) charged with the murder of 148 people in the Dujail trial, Chemical Ali has been charged with Genocide – the “crime of crimes” – with as many as 180,000 victims.  In short, there is every reason why the media and public should care about the Anfal case.

As to the second explanation for the dearth of coverage, it is true that the fairness of the Dujail trial was eroded by the deaths of three defense counsel, the replacement of several judges, and the repeated boycotts by the defense team.  And those of us who provided training and assistance to the judges of the Iraqi High Tribunal were profoundly troubled by reports of Iraqi Executive Branch attempts to influence the judicial process during the Appeal phase of the case.  However, as John Gibeaut demonstrates in “Rough Justice,” which appears in the May 2007 issue of the American Bar Association Journal, the Iraqi High Tribunal should not be so quickly written off as a Kangeroo Court.  See http://www.abanet.org/journal/redesign/05firaq.html .  This well-balanced and meticulously documented investigative report should be required reading for anyone who really wants to understand both what went wrong and what went right in the Dujail trial, and what the prospects are for justice in the Anfal case.