BAGHDAD, Iraq - An Iraqi investigative judge presented to a judiciary panel yesterday the first charges in the coming trials of senior officials of Saddam Hussein's government.
The charges, for crimes against humanity, were brought against five high-ranking members of the old government in the equivalent of a grand jury hearing. The men are accused of being responsible for the 1982 crackdown on residents of the mostly Shiite village of Dujail, more than 35 miles north of Baghdad.
The most prominent man charged was Barzan Ibrahim al-Hassan al-Tikriti, a half brother of Saddam Hussein and a former director of the intelligence service.
The referral of the charges, as the procedure is called in the Iraqi special tribunal, came a day after senior Iraqi officials said another half brother of Hussein, Sabawi Ibrahim al-Hassan, a suspected major financier of the insurgency, was arrested in Syria. Hussein and his half brothers have the same mother.
The other four men who faced charges yesterday were Taha Yassin Ramadan, a former deputy prime minister and also a former vice president; Awad Hamad al-Bander Al-S'adun, a former chief judge in the Revolutionary Court; Abdullah Kadam Roweed al-Musheikhi, a former senior Baathist from Dujail; and al-Musheikhi's son, Mizher Roweed al-Musheikhi, another former senior Baathist from Dujail.
The father and son were arrested Feb. 21 as they slept in their village. An investigation, which began in July, determined that they were culpable, a Western legal expert said on the condition of anonymity.
Relatively fast work
The expert said this set of charges was the first brought during the various investigations into the crimes of the old government because the investigators had apparently managed to work relatively fast on the case.
"It was just done, and I guess the judge concluded there's no reason not to refer these individuals," he said.
Reporters were barred from attending yesterday's proceedings, which took place in a temporary courtroom on the grounds of Baghdad International Airport. But Western officials afterward presented a video at a news conference in the fortified Green Zone that showed 10 minutes of scenes from the hearing.
The first shot showed the five men sitting at a wooden table, with the room lined by Iraqi policemen in blue body armor. The men's hands were cuffed in front of them and they stared vacantly into space, perhaps resigned to their grim situation. Tikriti's thin frame was draped in a light-blue work shirt, while three of the men wore traditional dark robes, and the youngest, Mizher Roweed al-Musheikhi, wore a suit.
The men were summoned individually to sit before the investigative judge, Raad Juhee, who addressed them. A few shots showed some of the men, including Tikriti, muttering a few words, but the video was shown without sound, making it impossible to discern what was said. Some of the men were shown scribbling onto a white piece of paper held in their laps, presumably a legal document of some sort.
The men's trials will not begin for at least 45 days, and the fact they were charged with crimes related to Dujail does not mean that they will be precluded from a referral of other charges.
In July 1982, officials under Hussein exacted a heavy vengeance on Dujail after a few residents tried but failed to assassinate Hussein as he rode through the village.
In the days after the assassination attempt, hundreds of people were arrested and as many as 15 were immediately executed, according to a statement from the Iraqi Special Tribune. As many as 1,500 others spent years in prison with no trial or charges brought against them, and 143 were brought to show trials and executed.
Tikriti, in charge of the Iraqi intelligence service at the time, commanded the forces that descended on Dujail. Ramadan ordered the razing of all natural resources around the village, such as date palm groves, to drive the residents into poverty, the Western expert said. Saadun presided over the show trials, he added.
The two former Baathists from Dujail are accused of being instrumental in coordinating the imprisonments and executions.
All five men could face, as a maximum sentence, the possibility of death.