Monday, November 20, 2006

Saddam's flawed trial

Human Rights Watch today released it's report of the trial of Saddam, concluding that it "was marred by so many procedural and substantive flaws that the verdict is unsound." Unfortunately I have to agree with them.

A year ago, when I was working in Baghdad with the UN, I was approached by one of the lawyers in Saddam's defence team who was an acquaintance. He explained some of the problems they were having communicating with the Special Tribunal, for example when they sent letters and submissions they would sometimes hear nothing for weeks and then be told that the letters had not been received. This made it very difficult for them to prepare their defence adequately. The lawyer asked me whether, as I was living inside the Green Zone with easy access to those involved with the tribunal (indeed many of those involved were my neighbours in the Rasheed Hotel) and in the US embassy, I might play the role of a go between. He wanted me to give their letters directly to the relevant people so there could be no denying receipt.

I was willing to play this role, not because I support Saddam in any way (In 2001 I lived for 6 months with a refugee who had been torturer by the regime and I am fully convinced that Saddam has a great deal of blood on his hands) but because I want Iraqis to have a fair legal system that they can trust. If the most prominent trial in Iraqi history is seen to be unfair then what hope will an ordinary Iraqi have of fair treatment by the courts? In the end I didn't get involved because my UN colleagues did not want me to do so (even in a private capacity) as a result of understandable political sensitivities. Instead I refered the lawyer to the UN's human rights team, who were already involved in monitoring the proceedings of the trial.

As a Christian, I oppose the death penalty on principle. However there are other reasons why I think it would be a bad idea to execute Saddam. Firstly it would deny the thousands of other victims of his rule to have their cases heard. Secondly it could be an excuse for additional violence and it could risk turning the old tyrant into a martyr. Thirdly it would mean that Saddam himself would get off too lightly, worse for him to live on a few more decades with his power stripped away and his crimes made visible to the world; Saddam could die today with the reasonable belief that Iraq has gone down hill without him at the helm, but - inshallah - if he lives a few years perhaps he will see a peaceful, prosperous and democratic country to which his three decades of rule is but a gruesome historical footnote.

Tuesday, October 05, 2004

European Heros

The latest Time Europe magazine has our friends as the cover story on their 2004 tribute to European heros (ranging from Anita Roddick to Sylvie Guillem). The article writes: "The Simonas are heroes because of their brave, good works. They heeded a quiet voice that told them: don't mind the danger, go where the suffering is." Simona Torretta says: "The people they help aren't abstractions; they're friends. It's work we do with them, not for them. They felt close to us, and we could feel their affection. That's why we stayed. We were a part of their lives in the good and the bad. We lived with the same security risk that all Iraqis lived with."

In an interview with the Corriere newspaper, Simona T said "You have to distinguish between terrorism and resistance. The guerrilla war is justified, but I am against the kidnapping of civilians." She also called on Italy to remove its troops. She said that Iyad Allawi's government is a "puppet in the hands of the Americans" and that the elections scheduled for January will have no legitimacy. "During my days in detention I came to the conclusion it will take decades to put Iraq back on its feet." On the issue of an alleged ransom payment she said: "If a ransom was paid, then I am very sorry. But I know nothing about it. I believe that [the captors] were a very political, religious group and that in the end they were convinced that we were not enemies." She intends to return to Iraq but: "I've got to wait until the end of the US occupation." She said they had been well-treated during their three-week detention.

At a news conference the day after their release, Simona T said their captors asked for their forgiveness when they realized they were in Iraq to help local people. "The relationship improved. They checked out who we were. They gave us towels and soap and books about Islam, and they made us read the Quran. Our treatment was privileged, possibly helped by us being women." She said that the kidnappers gave them sweets as a farewell gift.

The right wing gutter press in both Italy and Britain has been critical of them for continuing to speak out against the occupation. The Guardian and the BBC summarise some of the comments.

They've also visited old papa JP in the Vatican. "We wanted to thank the Pope for being so near to us during these 21 days". Said Simona T, while Simona P added: "The Pope's eyes told us much more than his words".

Tuesday, September 28, 2004

Free!!! Alhamdulillah!!!

We are relieved and overjoyed that all four of our friends have been released today!

They were handed over to the Red Cross in Baghdad and arrived back in Italy at 11pm. Simona Pari's dad Luciano, said "I wish to take this opportunity to thank you and to thank the entire Arab world, who proved their friendship to us."

Ransom rumours

Al-Rai al-Aam, one of Kuwait's leading daily newspapers, said the captors of the two Simonas have agreed to to free them, as early as this week, for a $1 million ransom. The newspaper quoted sources "very close to Islamic factions" saying they expected a "happy ending." The report, which said half of the ransom had been paid yestarday and the rest would be paid today, could not be independently confirmed and both the Italian prime minister's office and the foreign ministry said they had no immediate comment on the report.

Sunday, September 26, 2004

The Sheikh's daisies

In Italy people have begun making and drawing sets of four daisies, as a focal symbol as they wait, hope and pray for the release of our four friends, and an end to the brutal occupation of Iraq. The symbol comes from a story recounted by Simona Torretta in a letter to a friend a few days before the kidnapping.

"We had an appointment with the Sheikh [al-Kubaisi of the Muslim Clerics Association] early in the morning to discuss the schools project. He told of his followers, killed while they were marching peacefully [to Najaf], Fathers and good family men. I told him about Enzo. We mourned on the common deaths, an Italian-Iraqi mourning. He told us to be strong. In these days there's little room for hope: grief is everywhere. Then in the evening he came back, with a surprise for us: two daisies. He wanted to let us smile. "After seeing you two so depressed, this morning, I couldn't rest all day long." This said by someone who's been watching friends die all year. "I chose this flower because is the only one that can grow in salty soil. It's like us: it lives and dies in difficult conditions. So stop being sad, you're one of the most precious things left to us. And most of all I'd like to rest." He made us smile. I got the red, solitary daisy, with the long stem. Simo [Pari] got the pink and meaty one."

There are some beautiful banners and posters using the daisy theme on Un Ponte Per's website.

Saturday, September 25, 2004

al-Dhari thinks they are being held by criminals

Muthana al-Dhari, a spokesman for the influential Association of Muslim Scholars, said that he guesses our friends are being held by a criminal group that has no relation to the resistance. Speaking to journalists at the committee’s headquarters in Baghdad’s Umm al-Qura mosque, he said he did not think they are dead “because the material gain from holding them is big. I had my doubts about the whole operation from the start because the style and method all indicate that the kidnappers are an organised gang with no connection to the resistance.”

Thursday, September 23, 2004

Unverified claims of killings

Anyone can post a message onto a Jihadist bulletin board and make any claim under any name, real or assumed. For this reason it is very hard to weigh the validity of statements proportedly by the kidnappers of our friends.

In the early hours of this morning, a statement in the name the Jihad Organization, the second group which said it was holding them (on 12th September), claimed to have killed the two Simonas. A few hours later a second statement appeared in the name of the Supporters of Al-Zawahiri, the first group which said it was holding them (on 10th September), which also claimed to have killed them. Neither statement can be verified, and the existance of two seperate claims adds to the confusion. Intersos, for whom Mahnoaz worked, has said: "Our sources in Baghdad do not consider... this announcement reliable."

We should not give up hope yet, and continue praying for their safety and release, along with Ra'ad and Mahnoaz.

Tuesday, September 21, 2004

Zarqawi apparently denies involvement

A group headed by Abu Musab al Zarqawi appeared to deny that it had bought the two Simonas, as had been claimed by Foreign Minister Hamid al-Bayati. Reuters reports that the statement was posted on a website yestarday: "The Tawhid and Jihad group affirms to all that the report that we bought the Italians is a lie. We urge the brothers and sisters not to be hasty in picking up news." The Tawhid and Jihad group does however hold a Brition Kenneth Bigley and an American, Jack Hensley, and killed another American, Eugene Armstrong, yestarday.