The chief investigative judge for the trial of Saddam Hussein said that the legal proceeding for the former Iraqi dictator was “the biggest turning point in Iraqi history” on Thursday at the Jacob Burns Law Library.
Ra’id Juhi Hamadi Al Saedi, who gave the annual Shulman Law School Lecture to about 80 students and lawyers, carefully described the challenges of trying the former Iraqi dictator.
“We had to prove that no one is above the law. We need to start the right way. How to start? We need to bring the ex-president of Iraq to the court and say if he’s guilty or not,” Al Saedi said. “The trial of Saddam Hussein was the biggest turning point in Iraqi history because (the people) put their president on trial and sent him to jail.”
Al Saedi said the most difficult challenge of the two-year Hussein investigation was connecting the former Iraqi president with the massacres that occurred during his dictatorship and sorting through the 21 tons of documents left behind by his regime.
“The court is the first step to put an end to a line of dictators who killed people for no reason,” Al Saedi said, adding, “To build a rule of law is not easy.”
The Iraqi High Tribunal has jurisdiction over genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity. Although they convicted Hussein and several members of his regime, the court still hears cases within its jurisdiction. However, officials said the court might soon become obsolete since few cases still exist in that jurisdiction.
Al Saedi said the IHT investigators opened five of the 250 mass graves that were created during Hussein’s reign.
The investigative team found several identification cards scattered near broken bones and skeletal remains of about 10 to 15 people, using the information to find the family and friends of the deceased for court testimony.
The Iraqi judge and a team of more than 200 interviewed these people and sometimes learned good news, he said.
“Some people were documented as dead in the massacres but escaped and survived,” Al Saedi said.
One of the people on his investigative team was Adam Pearlman, a second-year law student who attended the event. The Department of Justice sent Pearlman to Iraq in 2005 to work as a paralegal on the case.
“(Al Saedi) is incredible. I don’t know if anything he could have said would do justice to the sort of courage that he displayed during those times,” Pearlman said. “He’s got this conviction and you heard it when he was talking about the rule of law and education.”
Al Saedi, however, is no longer a member of the IHT. He is spending this year and next as a Clarke Middle Eastern fellow at the Cornell University Law School.
Although he will teach in America, Al Saedi said he plans to return to Iraq and help in the next critical steps his country must take.
“We spent a lot of blood the past couple of decades, but we have to move past history because we might miss the opportunity,” he said. “You have to serve your country, not make your country serve you … I will serve my country. I need to help my country. It’s my responsibility.”