Former Iraqi Foreign Minister Tariq Aziz has been sentenced to death by an Iraqi court on Tuesday for crimes against members of rival Shia political parties in the early 1990s.
Aziz, a prominent deputy minister under Saddam Hussein's regime, is accused of persecuting and killing members of the Shia-dominated Dawa party, now headed by Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. He also stands accused of displacing Kurds in northern Iraq and for involvement in the deaths of 42 merchants who had been accused of inflating food prices. In a rare interview in August this year with the Guardian, Aziz denied committing crimes against civilians.
Responding to today’s death sentence, Aziz' family described the verdict as a 'travesty' accusing the courts of putting on a 'theatrical performance' and Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki of scapegoating Aziz to obscure Wikileaks disclosures over the weekend, which among other things, suggest that al-Maliki may be operating death squads to crack down on his rivals. Al-Maliki has responded to the disclosure of the documents, saying their release is an attempt to undermine his bid for a second term in political office.
The openSecurity verdict: Whilst today's verdict may be welcomed by the victims of the former Ba'athist regime, serious concerns have repeatedly been expressed over the neutrality of the Iraqi judicial process. Rights groups have criticised the Iraqi Tribunal, set up to redress genocide and war crimes, on the basis that it fails to observe international human rights protocols. Specifically, it has been pointed out that the tribunal does not adhere to the 'beyond reasonable doubt' principle that has been the cornerstone of the Yugoslavia and Rwanda tribunals at The Hague. This means that suspects can be convicted on the basis of the balance of evidence. Critics say speed has transcended due legal process, claiming the tribunal has made serious factual and legal errors. Consequently, it is claimed that the true record of the Ba'athist regime's criminality has been obscured.
The supposed excesses of the judiciary give credence to the view that the Iraqi state is failing. The country ranked third-worst in Transparency International's corruption perception index, indicating a trust deficit in state-society relations. Moreover, the disclosure of 400,000 classified US files by Wikileaks point to serious failings by Iraq’s security services and their involvement in the torture and killing of innocent people. The release of the Iraq war logs show 15,000 deaths that have been unaccounted for and suggest the Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki may be running death squads. For his part, al-Maliki says the release of the documents are politically timed but acknoledges that they cound destabilise Iraq, particularly given the ever diminishing trust of Iraqi Sunnis in the state's political and security apparatus.
Given the US occupation of Iraq was justified on the basis of putting an end to the barbarities of Saddam and his aides, such as Tariq Aziz, many Iraqis may be excused for thinking that 'one set of torturers and thugs has been replaced by another.' This perception will likely be exacerbated by the ongoing negotiations over the formation of a new government which tell a story of a fledgling democracy. Iraq has been functioning without a government for some seven to eight months as the two rival blocs headed by al-Maliki and Iyad Allawi have been locked in disagreements.
Against the backdrop of negotiations over the formation of a new government, the Wikileaks disclosure will no doubt discredit al-Maliki and the legitimacy, even stability, of any future power-sharing agreement. The broader implications and possible consequences of the latest Wikileaks release will no doubt concern the US and regional powers, especially Iran, which stands accused of heavily equipping Shia groups and aiding sectarian violence.
Former ‘child soldier’ pleads guilty at Guantanamo
Canadian citizen Omar Khadr pleaded guilty yesterday to five charges of terrorism levelled against him in a US war crimes tribunal at the Guantanamo Bay naval base as part of an agreement with prosecutors that could see Khadr serve the rest of his sentence in Canada. Defence lawyers for Khadr say he had little choice but to plead guilty to avert a possible life sentence.
Khadr, the youngest detainee at Guantanamo, stands accused of throwing a grenade that killed a US soldier in Afghanistan in 2002. At the time of the incident, the defendant was just fifteen. As a result, his defence lawyers and rights groups say that he should not be tried for war crimes.
The case has tested a pledge made by US President Obama eighteen months ago to close down the Guantanamo facility and the vigour of justice delivered by controversial military commissions, which were rendered unconstitutional by the US Supreme Court in 2006.
UK police receive terror training
Britain has stepped up training for its armed police in order to prepare them for the possibility of a 'Mumbai-style' attack, according to the BBC. The initiative will see armed units receive more firepower and weapons. Reports suggest that the SAS (Special Air Services) has been involved in training police to counter any potential terror threat ahead of the 2012 Olympic Games in London.
Elsewhere, the Guardian reported yesterday that more than 200 cameras targeted at Muslim areas in Birmingham as part of a secret counter-terrorism efforts will be dismantled. Residents say they were not consulted about the surveillance initiative whilst councillors contend they were deliberately misled about the £3m scheme, called Project Champion. A statement issued last week by the human rights group Liberty demanded assurances from West Midlands police that all cameras were removed, otherwise it would pursue legal action at the High Court.
Transparency international ranks war-torn countries as 'most corrupt'
The Berlin based anti-corruption watchdog, Transparency International, has released its annual corruption perception index showing that war-torn countries are still perceived as the most corrupt. Based on polls of businesses and people, Somalia was perceived to be the most corrupt country in the world, ahead of Myanmar and Afghanistan at joint second-worst. Significantly, the US dropped to a historic low in the rankings due in most part to lending practices during the subprime mortgage crisis and an 'integrity deficit' catalysed by rows over political funding. Along with the US, Greece, Italy, the Czech Republic and Hungary are all highlighted by the report as nation-states where perceptions about corruption have deteriorated.