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Hussein trial 'fundamentally unfair'

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BAGHDAD, Iraq (CNN) -- Former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein's trial in the killings of nearly 150 Shiite Muslim villagers in 1982 was "fundamentally unfair," and the death sentence he received earlier this month was "indefensible," a leading human rights group said Sunday.

In a 97-page review of the trial, Human Rights Watch said Hussein's trial "was marred by so many procedural and substantive flaws that the verdict is unsound."

It called on the Iraqi tribunal to overturn the verdict and its sentence of death by hanging for Hussein, who was ousted by a U.S. invasion in 2003.

Hussein and two co-defendants -- his half-brother and former intelligence chief Barzan Hassan, and Awad Bandar, former chief judge of the Revolutionary Court -- were sentenced to death Nov. 5 for the killings of 148 people in Dujail, a mostly Shiite town north of Baghdad, after a 1982 attempt to assassinate the then-Iraqi leader.

Human Rights Watch, which had criticized the Iraqi regime under Hussein, opposes the death penalty and has issued several previous reports critical of the Dujail trial.

There was no immediate response from the Iraqi government to the latest report, which was released early Monday in Baghdad.

Sunday's report concludes that the prosecution undermined several guarantees necessary to a fair trial under international law, including the right to an independent and impartial court, the presumption of innocence, the ability to prepare a defense and the right to cross-examine witnesses.

"Unless the Iraqi government allows experienced international judges and lawyers to participate directly, it's unlikely the court can fairly conduct other trials," said Nehal Bhuta, a lawyer with the group's International Justice Program, in a statement accompanying the report.

Hussein and others are still being tried for genocide in the killings of up to 100,000 Kurds during the 1988 Anfal campaign against Kurdish rebels -- a campaign that included the use of poison gas against Kurdish towns in northern Iraq.

The report accuses Iraqi leaders, including Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, of declaring Saddam guilty before the trial and said criticism of the original presiding judge in the case "created an enormous sense of pressure" on members of the Iraqi High Tribunal that heard the case.

"While the trial of someone as notorious as Saddam Hussein will inevitably be accompanied by strong opinions and public discussion as to his guilt or otherwise, public authorities and in particular leading political figures are not relieved of their obligation to refrain from prejudging the outcome of the trial," the report found.

"In creating an environment in which judges feel intense pressure to be seen as dealing severely with the accused, such behavior undermines the guarantee of presumption of innocence at trial."


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