Former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein is being tried by the Iraqi Special Tribunal for crimes against humanity and genocide. The Tribunal was established under a statute issued by the Coalition Provisional Authority and now exists under the Iraqi interim government. The tribunal was established to try Iraqi nationals or residents accused of crimes against humanity, genocide or war crimes committed between July 17, 1968, and May 1, 2003.

The first charge for which Hussein is to stand trial concerns the execution of 143 people from the town of Dujail, Iraq, a mixed Shiite and Sunni town, which was the site of an assassination attempt on Hussein on July 8, 1982. The roundup and execution of 143 Dujail villagers occurred as part of a full-scale military operation and wholesale reprisal for the attempt on Hussein’s life. This charge, along with the killing of 5,000 Kurdish civilians in a chemical attack on Halabja in 1988, is among the charges for which Hussein will stand trial.

Many of the crimes for which Hussein is on trial were well known to the international community and the United States at the time of Iraq’s long war with Iran (1980-1988). While Iran was reporting the Iraqi use of chemical weapons in the summer of 1983, to the limited interest of the diplomatic community, the United States was following developments in the Iran-Iraq war with extraordinary intensity, according to The National Security Archives.

According to a declassified state department memo from November 1983, the U.S., despite knowledge of Iraqi use of chemical weapons, was circulating documents outlining measures the U.S. could take to support Iraq in its war efforts against Iran.

According to the National Security Archives’ “Shaking Hands with Saddam Hussein: The U.S. Tilts toward Iraq, 1980-1984”:

Following further high-level policy review, Ronald Reagan issued National Security Decision Directive 114, dated Nov. 26, 1983, concerned specifically with U.S. policy toward the Iran-Iraq war. The directive reflects the administration’s priorities: It calls for heightened regional military cooperation to defend oil facilities, and measures to improve U.S. military capabilities in the Persian Gulf, and directs the secretaries of state and defense and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff to take appropriate measures to respond to tensions in the area. It states, “Because of the real and psychological impact of a curtailment in the flow of oil from the Persian Gulf on the international economic system, we must assure our readiness to deal promptly with actions aimed at disrupting that traffic.” It does not mention chemical weapons [Document 26].

Soon thereafter, Donald Rumsfeld (who had served in various positions in the Nixon and Ford administrations, including as President Ford’s defense secretary, and at this time headed the multinational pharmaceutical company G.D. Searle & Co.) was dispatched to the Middle East as a presidential envoy. His December 1983 tour of regional capitals included Baghdad, where he was to establish “direct contact between an envoy of President Reagan and President Saddam Hussein,” while emphasizing “his close relationship” with the president [Document 28].

Rumsfeld met with Saddam, and the two discussed regional issues of mutual interest, shared enmity toward Iran and Syria and talked about the U.S.’ efforts to find alternative routes to transport Iraq’s oil; its facilities in the Persian Gulf had been shut down by Iran, and Iran’s ally, Syria, had cut off a pipeline that transported Iraqi oil through its territory. Rumsfeld made no reference to chemical weapons, according to detailed notes on the meeting [Document 31].

On March 5, 1984, the State Department issued a public condemnation [Declassified Document] of the use of chemical weapons, placing a strain on diplomatic relations during Rumsfeld’s visit to Baghdad in late March 1984. The U.S. and Iraq would officially restore diplomatic relations on Nov. 26, 1984, and Washington, despite official U.S. policy, continued to supply U.S. military equipment on a “don’t ask, don’t tell” basis in support of an Iraqi victory in the Iran-Iraq war.


The charges against Hussein, as reported by the BBC on July 1, 2004, are:

Anfal “ethnic cleansing” campaign against Kurds, 1988 Displacement campaign that depopulated and razed hundreds of Kurdish villages. International human rights groups estimate that up to 182,000 people were killed.

Gassing Kurds in Halabja, 1988 Iraqi forces attacked Kurdish town with bombs containing mustard and nerve gas, killing an estimated 5,000 civilians in one day.

Invasion of Kuwait, 1990 Iraqi soldiers invade Kuwait. Soldiers allegedly tortured and executed prisoners, looted Kuwait City and took hundreds of Kuwaitis captive. Soldiers set flame to more than 700 oil wells and drained pipelines into the Gulf and other bodies of water.

Crushing Kurdish and Shiite rebellions, after Gulf War, 1991 Iraqi forces suppress uprisings using massive military force. They drained southern marshlands, destroying the habitat of indigenous Arabs, forcing many to flee to surrounding countries.

Killing political activists for over 30 years The U.N. Commission on Human Rights condemned the Iraqi regime in 2001 for “widespread, systematic torture and the maintaining of decrees prescribing cruel and inhuman punishment as a penalty for offences.”

Thousands of Shiite Muslims arrested on charges of supporting the 1979 Iranian Revolution have never been accounted for. The BBC also reported evidence of 270 mass graves believed to hold the remains of tens of thousands of people.

Massacre of members of the Kurdish Barzani tribe, 1983 In July 1983, Iraqi security forces arrested about 8,000 male members of the Barzani clan in the northern province of Arbil. They were transported to southern Iraq and have not been heard of since.

Killing of religious leaders, 1974 In July 1974, the Iraqi regime arrested dozens of Shiite religious leaders and executed five of them.


Law Of Administration for the State of Iraq for the Transitional PeriodUnofficial English Translation of the new Iraqi Special Tribunal Statute

Info | As described by Grotian Moment: “On August 11, 2005, the Iraqi Transitional National Assembly adopted a new Statute of the Iraqi Special Tribunal, which is nearly identical to the Statute that had been promulgated by the U.S.-appointed Iraqi Governing Council on December 10, 2003. Amendments from the previous Statute are in Red. Note, there are some mistakes in the unofficial English translation, including the omission of the word ‘not’ in the provision on Command Responsibility (Art 15(4)), which will be corrected shortly.” more

Iraqi High Criminal Court Rules for Proceedings and Evidence Gathering


Shaking Hands with Saddam Hussein: The U.S. Tilts toward Iraq, 1980-1984

Feb. 25, 2003 | The National Security Archive’s briefing book on U.S. support for Iraq during the Iran-Iraq war despite Iraq’s continued use of chemical weapons. Includes declassified memos detailing diplomatic relations between Iraq and the Reagan administration. Edited by Joyce Battle. more

Dec. 20, 1983 | Iraqi Television / CNN video of Rumsfeld and Hussein meeting posted by The National Security Archive Windows Media Player High (2.4 MB) | Low (734 KB)]


Council on Foreign Relations|IRAQ: Saddam’s Trial

Info | Nonpartisan Q & A about Hussein’s trial.

Case School of Law |Grotian Moment: The Saddam Hussein Trial Blog Info | “As arguably the most important war crimes proceeding since Nuremberg, the trial of Saddam Hussein is likely to constitute a ‘Grotian Moment’ — defined as a legal development that is so significant that it can create new customary international law or radically transform the interpretation of treaty-based law. This Website features key documents related to the Iraqi Special Tribunal, answers to frequently asked questions, and expert debate and public commentary on the major issues and developments related to the trials of Saddam Hussein and other former Iraqi leaders.”

The Washington Post | The Trial of Saddam Hussein Info | Washington Post interactive feature on the Hussein trial including images of his capture, video and timelines.

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