Baghdad (AsiaNews/Agencies) In a country where supporters of the old strongman are still killing opponents, Kurdish judge Rizgar Mohammed Amin displayed great courage yesterday by appearing before the cameras broadcasting live the first hearing of the trial against Saddam Hussein.
Fear prevented the 30 to 40 witnesses expected to testify in the trial from coming and forced Judge Amin to adjourn the proceedings till November 28.
"They were too scared to be public witnesses," he said. "We're going to work on this issue for the next sessions."
During the three-hour hearing Amin said he did not order the witnesses to appear for security reasons, adding that one witness, Wadhah Ismail Khalil, said he could not come so that the court shall go to him.
Amin is the only judge of the five-member panel to be named and shown on TV; the four other judges remain anonymous and sat out of camera range during the live TV broadcast.
The judge listened politely but replied firmly to the defendant who refused to recognise the legitimacy of the court and state his name, occupation and birth date.
In the face of the former president's arrogance, Amin was relaxed and patient and did not look off balance.
Even Saddam's defence counsel Khalil al-Dulaimi was full of praise for him. "The judge was [. . .] wonderful in every way," al-Dulaimi said. "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."
For many Sunnis, Saddam remains a symbol of their trampled pride, but Shiites and Kurds just want to see him sentenced to death.
Although international legal experts will attend the trial as observers, many voices have already been raised about the danger that the verdict might result from a desire for vengeance and not justice.
In Amin's home town of Sulaimaniya, 80 km (50 miles) from Halabja, local people speak of him as a model jurist who has 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. "Once, he sentenced a top military official in one of the Kurdish militias to death for killing a number of people."