The White House today praised the Iraqi judicial system for its independence and denied the Bush administration had been “scheming” to arrange a verdict in Saddam Hussein’s trial days before crucial US elections.
“The judiciary is operating independently and we need to give them credit for doing their job and doing it in the way they saw fit and proper,” presidential spokesman Tony Snow said.
Iraqis, he said, “are the ones who conducted the trial. The Iraqi judges are the ones who spent all the time poring over the evidence. … It’s important to give them credit for running their own government.”
Snow denied that the US had any role in the timing of the verdict, two days before Americans vote in an election widely viewed as a referendum on Bush’s Iraq policy.
“The idea is preposterous,” he said, the idea “that somehow we’ve been scheming and plotting with the Iraqis.”
Democrats are poised for large gains, hoping to take control of the House or Senate, or both, in Tuesday’s congressional balloting.
Snow said the US believes Saddam received a fair trial even though one of Saddam’s lawyers was assassinated the day after the trial’s opening session last year. Two more were later killed and a fourth fled the country.
“It’s certainly something both we regret and the Iraqi government regrets and it shouldn’t have to have to happen,” Snow said. “One of the things you see, though, is that there have been attempts and there will continue to be attempts to bring to justice those who are responsible for killing the attorneys.”
Snow said there will be “complete transparency in this case because the judges will in fact publish everything they used to come to their verdict.” That, he said, means “the entire world is going get an opportunity to see that they were both scrupulous and fair.”
Snow lauded “a young judiciary” in a fragile democracy for taking on such a hard case with the world watching. ”To do it with such care and deliberation under trying circumstances … speaks volumes about their seriousness in terms of developing a rule of law.”
Asked if the US government hoped Saddam would be executed, Snow said, “We don’t hope. … We’re not rooting. We’re not holding up score cards. We simply think it’s important that you establish a rule of law where people have their rights protected, where they have rights to appeal, where they have rights to counsel but also where victims of violence have redress.”
Snow said “even somebody like Saddam Hussein, having the rights of every other citizen, to have his day in court, to have defence, to have an automatic right of appeal – that ought to be heartening for people who believe that you need to have a fair judiciary system.”
The top Democrat on the House International Relations Committee said the verdict was just. But Tom Lantos said in a statement it “must not distract Americans from the more pressing issue: the need for a change in the direction of our country’s policy toward Iraq, both the conduct of the war effort and our pathetic, corruption-stained attempt at reconstruction.”
Snow was interviewed on CNN’s “Late Edition".