It wasn’t too long ago that the Bush administration and its anti-United Nations allies were working feverishly to bring about the dismissal of Mohamed El Baradei, Director General of the UN’s International Atomic Energy Commission, for the crime of failing to support U.S. claims that Saddam Hussein posed a dangerous WMD threat to the world (for the record, El baradei turned out to be right and the Bush administration turned out to be wrong). The smear campaign came to an abrubt end in October when El Baradei was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, widely interpreted as a sharp rebuke to the Bush administration.
The anti-United Nations crowd may not have El Baradei to kick around any longer, but judging by two Reuters articles out today (both so far getting scant attention from most of the U.S. mainstream media) they may have a new target to aim their sights at: John Pace, human rights chief for the United Nations Assistance Mission in Iraq.
The first of the two Reuters articles was filed at 9:05am ET on Sunday, December 4: “UN Expresses Deep Concern over Saddam Trial.” Highlights follow:
Attacks on lawyers and flaws in the Iraqi justice system mean the trial of Saddam Hussein on charges of crimes against humanity will never satisfy international standards, a UN rights official said on Sunday.
…Pace expressed deep concern over the progress of the Saddam trial, which has had two brief hearings of a few hours each since October 19, and resumes on Monday.
“We’re concerned already by what we have seen, we are concerned by the murder of two defense lawyers and the serious wounding of another,” Pace told Reuters in Baghdad.
“There is already a paralysis in the legitimacy of the defense,” he said in an interview at the UN’s fortified compound, adding that defense counsel had to be able to work freely and effectively for the trial to be considered fair.
“We believe that weakness in the system of administration of justice, in addition to the antecedents surrounding the establishment of this tribunal, will never be able to produce the kind of process that would be able to satisfy international standards,” Pace said.
…Hearings were adjourned for a week last Monday so that two of Saddam’s seven co-defendants, former Vice President Taha Yassin Ramadan and former intelligence chief Barzan al-Tikriti, Saddam’s half-brother, could find new lawyers after one advocate was killed and another fled Iraq in fear last month. Another defense lawyer was killed separately.
…The United Nations has no role in the trial, which is being conducted by a five-judge panel under a tribunal appointed by U.S. occupation forces, but has called for an independent probe into the deaths of the lawyers.
Rights groups have argued the Saddam trial should follow other war crimes cases like those for Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia and be heard in an international forum like the International Criminal Court, which Washington does not support.
…Pace said significant human rights issues were involved, which meant the trial should be heard in an international forum.
“The trial should serve as a deterrent against the repetition of the violations of human rights witnessed under Saddam Hussein,” Pace said.
…All defendants have pleaded not guilty. They could face death by hanging if convicted. The United Nations opposes the death penalty…
The second Reuters article was filed at 6:38pm ET Sunday evening: “UN Official Says US Detentions Abuse Iraq Mandate,” and this one is sure to delight the Neocon critics who regard any UN criticism of the U.S. as unwelcome interference:
The U.S. military is abusing its United Nations mandate in Iraq by detaining thousands of people without due process of law, a senior U.N. official said.
The Iraqi government installed after the U.S. invasion of 2003 is also guilty of major human rights abuses, including holding people without charge in secret jails “littered” across the country, John Pace, human rights chief for the United Nations Assistance Mission in Iraq (UNAMI), told Reuters.
Referring to accusations of corruption among Iraqi justice officials and police, Pace said illegal detentions were fuelling rather than curbing revolt.
“There is no question that terrorism has to be addressed. But we are equally sure that the remedies being applied … are not the best way of eliminating terrorism,” Pace said. “More terrorists are being created than are being eliminated.”
…in some of the strongest U.N. comments to date, Pace said in an interview on Sunday that the system, including the pattern, duration and conditions of detention, were “not consistent with what is foreseen in 1546” and complained of a ”total breakdown” in individuals’ rights.
Pace said that, apart from prisoners serving court-ordered sentences in prisons run by the Justice Ministry, there were between 1,600 and 2,000 people being held in up to eight known facilities run by the Iraqi Interior Ministry.
But there were also others in unofficial facilities in former palaces “littered” around Baghdad and elsewhere in Iraq, as well as roughly 14,000 held in U.S. military facilities like Abu Ghraib prison in Baghdad and Camp Bucca in southern Iraq.
“All except those held by the Ministry of Justice are, technically speaking, held against the law because the Ministry of Justice is the only authority that is empowered by law to detain, to hold anybody in prison,” Pace said.
“Essentially none of these people have any real recourse to protection and therefore we speak … of a total breakdown in the protection of the individual in this country.
“It’s very rare to get judges ordering you to be released and effectively the police respecting that order.
“We have cases also where the judge who has ordered a group of people to be released, about 50-60 people, and the police, the Interior Ministry simply refuses,” Pace said.
“We have another case in another part of the country where the judge was actually the subject of reprisal for having found people not getting, as ordered, their release.
“The judge is now in jail,” he said, without giving details.
…Pace said the Justice Ministry was also failing detainees.
“The judiciary has a lot to answer for in this country. It is really not carrying out its duties,” he said, adding that bribes were sometimes paid for jobs in the judiciary and police.
“This is not denied,” Pace said. “This is symptomatic of the corruption problems in this country and stands in the way of any kind of rule of law.”
We can probably count the hours before Donald Rumsfeld and Norm Coleman begin the clamor for Mr. Pace’s dismissal.