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Sunday, October 12 at 11 p.m. America at a Crossroads: The Trial of Saddam Hussein

(Rochester, NY) The Trial of Saddam Hussein is a riveting, behind-the-scenes look at what really happened at the trial of Iraq's former dictator. With rarely seen footage and original interviews with Iraqi witnesses and officials, along with defense attorneys for Saddam and officials from the U.S. Justice Department's Regime Crimes Liaisons Office (RCLO), the office mandated to assist the Iraqi High Tribunal, The Trial of Saddam Hussein discloses a grossly mismanaged and political trial. As John Burns, the New York Times reporter who covered the trial, says in the film: "This invasion was poorly thought through and the aftermath was poorly managed, and a lot of the original objectives became unachievable, including the idea of having a trial which met Western judicial standards." America at a Crossroads: The Trial of Saddam Hussein airs Sunday, October 12 at 11 p.m. on WXXI-HD (cable 1011 and DT 21.1) and 11 p.m on WXXI-TV 21 (cable 11).

Among the most startling findings of the film was the last minute replacement of a judge during the deliberation period of Hussein's first trial in order to ensure a unanimous decision and a capital sentence. As explained by William Wiley, an International Law Advisor at the Iraqi High Tribunal, there were concerns within the Iraqi Prime Minister's office that a member of the trial chamber was soft towards the accused. "The Prime Minister's office," Wiley notes, "seems to have identified what they believed to be the weak link. That judge was removed and he was replaced by a hard liner and we know the results.” 

While political intervention into the trial to ensure a capital sentence may have been the most egregious failure, United States and Iraqi officials in the film document numerous others, including the decision by the U.S. government – some speculate a decision made by President Bush personally – to hand over Hussein to Iraqi custody during Eid ul-Adha, one of Islam's holiest holidays.

Kanan Makiya, the Iraqi-born academic who supported the war, concludes: "The American decision to hand him over was just one more failure amongst the whole litany and list of failures, including, above all, why did nobody think through this whole trial business better?" Makiya has launched the Iraq Memory Foundation to document how Hussein and his Ba'thist Party impacted Iraqi life between 1968 and 2003.

Former U.S. Justice Department officials were no less critical of the outcome.  Eric Blinderman, who went to Iraq as a member of the RCLO, said, "It was not the trial that I wanted.  It was not the trial that I saw when I originally went over to Iraq." Among the issues adding tension to the trial was an initial refusal by the Iraqi government to provide adequate security for defense attorneys.  Three defense lawyers were assassinated.

Daniel Polin, one of the producers, explained the decision to make the film: "The trial is in many ways a metaphor for the larger challenges facing Iraq.  Most importantly, you have the promise of a country that is willing to put on trial a former dictator, emphasizing the importance of law. But largely because of Saddam's regime of terror, ethnic and religious divisions remain pervasive and ingrained into every aspect of Iraqi life, including the courtroom."

Most telling of the divisions that marred the trial, and continue to haunt Iraqi life, were the last moments of Saddam Hussein's life in the execution chamber. A video shot on a cell phone reveal a group of witnesses hurling insults at Saddam and chanting the name of Moqtada al Sadr, the divisive Shi'a cleric. 

Ramsey Clark, the former U.S. Attorney General, and a member of the defense team, said, "This seemed to me such a total corruption of justice – people taunting him. The world saw that. The Iraqi people will never forget it; it was etched into their mind. That doesn't create peace."

The film includes unedited graphic footage of the execution, along with the rarely seen video of a group of Shias, including the Chief Prosecutor of the Anfal case, the second case brought against Saddam, chanting and dancing around the ambulance that held his body.

Elyse Steinberg, the other producer, said of the decision to broadcast this footage: "The final moments of Saddam's life, especially the taunting at the execution, and the celebration by political opponents, are very much part of what happened during the trial and a representation of the hostile divisions that continue to inflict Iraq. While graphic, we believe the story benefits from a true depiction of what happened."

For more information, visit www.pbs.org/weta/crossroads.

Pictured: Saddam Hussein during his trial.
Photo Credit: AP/Wide World Photos

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