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Saddam Can Handle the Truth

The tyrant takes full responsibility for the actions of his government.

11:00 PM, Mar 5, 2006 • By GREGORY S. MCNEAL
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On Wednesday, Saddam Hussein made a dramatic courtroom admission reminiscent of the movie A Few Good Men. In the film, young Navy defense attorney Lt. Daniel Kafee (Tom Cruise) needs to prove that Lt. Colonel Nathan Jessup (Jack Nicholson) ordered Kafee's clients to execute a "Code Red" which resulted in the accidental death of a fellow Marine. The order was key to proving that the defendants did not act on their own with the intent to kill and that true responsibility lay with the commander. One piece of dialogue between Kaffee and his co-counsel explains the defense theory:

Kaffee: Our clients followed the order. The cover-up isn't our case. To win, Jessep has to tell the jury that he ordered the code red.

Sam: And you think you can get him to just say it?

Kaffee: I think he wants to say it. I think he's pissed off that he's gotta hide from us. I think he wants to say that he made a command decision and that's the end of it.

Kaffee puts Jessup on the stand, rattles him, and in a dramatic shouting match asks Jessup if he ordered the Code Red. Jessup screams "You're goddamn right I did!" Thus proving a large part of the defense.

Saddam did a similar favor for the prosecution by brazenly admitting command responsibility and setting the stage for the conclusion of the prosecutor's case. The current proceeding, known as "the Dujail case," is the first in a series of trials planned against Saddam and his co-defendants. The charges stem from a failed July 1982 assassination attempt against the former dictator in the town of Dujail, north of Baghdad. In retaliation, Saddam and his seven co-defendants are alleged to have ordered and carried out the aerial bombardment of the town, the burning of its groves of date palm trees, the destruction of its water supply, the bulldozing of the its houses, and the imprisonment, torture, and execution of hundreds of the town's inhabitants.

The keys to proving Saddam guilty are: first, proving that the crimes occurred, a nearly indisputable fact for which substantial evidence has been admitted; second, proving that the defendants were tied to and responsible for the crimes, and finally addressing the defendants' affirmative defense that their actions were justified. The prosecutors, with Saddam's admission, all but proved the second element.

In the trial's morning session prosecutors presented before and after satellite photos of the farmlands around Dujail. On the left was a shot taken before the attempted assassination of Saddam in July 1982. It showed green farmlands. On the right was a satellite photo of the same land, taken on July 31, 1983. In the newer photo the land was brown from the demolition of the orchards. The evidence proved the fact that someone committed the war crime of destroying the village's crops. But like all evidence in the case, the prosecution still needed to tie the evidence to Saddam. Fortunately for the prosecutors, Saddam would have his Jack Nicholson moment.

As the afternoon session drew to a close, Saddam took the stand and stunned the court, admitting "I demolished the orchards. That was a Revolutionary Council decision to modernize the orchard, and I signed that order." He argued that Iraqi law allowed him to seize land and boldly stated "Where is the crime? Where is the crime?" Saddam went on, speaking about his other crimes, "If trying a suspect accused of shooting at a head of state--no matter what his name is--is considered a crime, then you have the head of state in your hands. Try him."

History will regard Saddam's admissions as a significant turn in the trial. With the hardest part of the case now proven, it is likely that when the trial resumes on March 12th the prosecution will rest.

As the former dictator stated, "I am Saddam Hussein, and at the time of leadership, I am responsible. It is not my habit to rely on others. I signed that decision, and nobody forced me to sign that decision." Did Saddam order the massacre at Dujail? You're goddamn right he did.

Gregory S. McNeal is a fellow at the Institute for Global Security Law and Policy at the Case School of Law. He is co-author of the forthcoming book Saddam on Trial and is conducting research for the Regime Crimes Liaison Office.