Kurdish judge steps forward in Saddam trial

Rizgar Mohammed Amin is probably not about to be a household name, but his firm handling, and occasional wry smiles, on the first day of the trial of Saddam Hussein has, overnight, made his face familiar around the world.

    Amin was named to the special trbunal last year

    In a country where Saddam's supporters still kill opponents, the presiding judge showed courage on Wednesday just by agreeing to be named and appear on television - a courage for which he is already known among his fellow Kurds. The four other judges on his panel remain anonymous and sat out of camera range.
       
    Amin himself recognised the dangers, telling Reuters he had adjourned the proceedings for 40 days because some three dozen witnesses had not dared appear in Baghdad for the trial. "They were too scared to be public witnesses," he said. "We're going to work on this issue for the next sessions."
       
    After a three-hour hearing in which Amin listened politely but replied firmly, with no sign of intimidation, to harangues from his own former president, even Saddam's defence counsel was full of praise for the judge.
       
    "The judge was very wonderful in every way - his performance,his morals ... and how he ran the court," defence counsel Khalil al-Dulaimi told Reuters.
      
    Independent mind

    "The judge was very wonderful in every way -- his performance,his morals ... and how he ran the court"

    Khalil al-Dulaimi,

    Saddam's defence counsel

    In his home town of Sulaimaniya, 80km from Halabja, local people spoke of a model jurist who had shown his independence of mind, standing up, not only to Saddam's officials but also those in the autonomous region of Kurdistan.

    "People here remember how Amin was never afraid to take difficult decisions in difficult times," said one Sulaimaniya journalist who knows the judge. "Once, he sentenced a top military official in one of the Kurdish militias to death for killing and raping a number of people."
       
    Amin was born in Sulaimaniya on 1957, graduated from law school in Baghdad in 1980 and worked as an investigating magistrate for 10 years in his home city. He was promoted to the senior ranks of the judiciary in 1993, after the Kurds had secured virtual independence from Baghdad. He was named to the special tribunal trying Saddam and his supporters last year.

    Implacable
       
    Amin remained implacable as Saddam lectured him for asking him about his identity. "You are an Iraqi and you know who I am," Saddam told him. "These are the procedures. A judge cannot rely on personal knowledge," the judge fired back.

    Saddam lectured Amin for asking
    him about his identity

    "He was very clever to act that way because he knew that the whole world is watching this trial and he wanted to show that the government is democratic and the court is independent," Dulaimi said.
       
    Tarik Harb, an independent Iraqi criminal lawyer who watched the trial, said Amin had run the proceedings fairly. "The judge was relaxed and patient, he did not look off balance," Harb said. "He was confident."
       
    During Saddam's earlier court hearings, a different judge was seen presiding over the case. That judge, Raid Juhi, was the top investigating judge in the case. Thus, his role was more like that of a prosecutor in the US federal court system, seeking a grand jury indictment.

    SOURCE: Agencies


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