Iraq’s Legal System Staggers Beneath the Weight of War
By MICHAEL MOSS
Published: December 17, 2006
BAGHDAD — In a cavernous room that once displayed gifts given to Saddam Hussein, eight men in yellow prison garb sat on the floor facing the wall, guarded by two American soldiers.
Among them was Abdulla Sultan Khalaf, a Ministry of Industry employee seized by American troops who said they found 10 blasting caps and 100 sticks of TNT. When his name was called, he stood, walked into a cagelike defendant’s box and peered over the wooden slats at a panel of three Iraqi judges of the central court.
The judges reviewed evidence prepared by an American military lawyer — testimony from two soldiers, photographs and a sketch of the scene.
The evidence went largely unchallenged, because Mr. Khalaf had no lawyer. The judges appointed one, but Mr. Khalaf had no chance to speak with him. Mr. Khalaf told the judges that the soldiers were probably chasing a rogue nephew and denied that the explosives were his or ever in his house. “Let me examine the pictures,” he insisted. The judges ignored him. His lawyer said nothing, beyond declaring Mr. Khalaf’s innocence. The trial lasted 15 minutes.
The judges conducted six trials of similar length and depth before lunch, then deliberated for four minutes. Five defendants were found guilty; one was acquitted. “The evidence is enough,” Judge Saeb Khorsheed Ahmed said in convicting Mr. Khalaf. “Thirty years.”
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