A Conversation with the Authors of Enemy of the State, Michael Newton and Michael Scharf
The authors responded to readers' questions and comments submited via the website.
Questions & Answers
First name: Christopher Rassi
City: Washington DC
Question: Why did you write this book?
Newton: Enemy of the State was inspired by the human drama and sheer courage of people who sacrificed comfort and convenience, and in some cases their very lives, for the sake of principle. This book helps document the true story of what the Iraqis accomplished and provides an accurate barometer of just how far this first important step took them towards their vision of a better nation. Secondly, the themes in our book and the questions we grapple with are among the most important issues facing the world today. They are at the heart of the 2008 American Presidential election. How do sovereign states apply international prohibitions against barbaric treatment of civilians? What is the best approach to rebuilding Iraq and dealing with the Arabic speaking world? Where should we draw the line in what is acceptable in our fight against terrorists who would destroy our way of life? Should judges enforce the letter of the law no matter how unjust the consequences? -- to mention only a few.
Scharf: There is no question that the Saddam trial was one of the most extraordinary judicial proceedings of all time. Sometimes truth really is more incredible than fiction. From the intensive media coverage, everyone knows about the defendant’s tirades, the assassination of defense counsel, the resignation of the chief judge, the defense boycott, the accusations of mistreatment, the hunger strikes, and the botched execution. But the behind the scenes story of these events has not until now been told. And misconceptions are legion. As insiders with unparalleled access to many of the trial participants, we felt that we were uniquely able to tell the true story of the trial, warts and all.
First name: Gregory S. McNeal
City: Carlisle, PA
Question: What are some of the misconceptions you address?
Scharf: Where to begin? The subtitle of the book could easily have been “everything you thought you knew about the Saddam trial is wrong.”
Newton: The biggest misconception is the degree to which outsiders really controlled actions and decisions of the Iraqi judges. This was an Iraqi process start to finish, and outsiders merely had a support role. We also wanted to present the facts behind the images that people saw around the world. Perhaps the best example of this is the perception of Saddam’s behavior at his execution. The leaked cell-phone video, which was broadcast countless times worldwide, was spun as though Saddam was a heroic figure, calmly accepting his fate while the authorities present were motivated by factionalism and revenge. It is true that guards at the hanging inappropriately mocked him with chants of “Moqtada, Moqtoda,” in reference to the popular Shiite sectarian leader Moqtada al-Sadr whose father had been murdered by Saddam. The images left an indelible impression that the trial was indeed a farce. But the media coverage gave an incomplete and misleading picture of what actually took place at the execution. Drawing from the official video record, the “Execution” chapter of “Enemy of the State” gives the full account of what actually transpired, showing that it was Saddam who initiated the mêlée by interrupting the reading of the verdict by shouting curses and threats at those present at the execution. In addition, when the guards began to shout back at Saddam and chant “Maqtada,” the IHT Deputy Prosecutor Munquith, whose brother had been murdered during the Saddam trial by unknown assailants, can be heard pleading for some dignity and self-control: “I will not accept any offense directed at him. Please no … this man is about to die.”
Scharf: Another example is that officials of an internationally respected human rights organization called “Human Rights Watch” gave a series of interviews to the press on the eve of the Saddam trial, saying that the proceedings would be unfair since the Iraqi High Tribunal’s statute and rules do not require that guilt be proved “beyond reasonable doubt.” In fact, the Iraqi High Tribunal employed the civil law system’s equivalent of this standard, “proof of guilt to the satisfaction of the judges,” but newspaper after newspaper dutifully reported the Human Rights Watch charge. Stung by this unfair criticism, and determined to show the world that they were firmly dedicated to fair trial standards, the Iraqi judges ended up employing the phrase “proved beyond a reasonable doubt” over two-dozen times in their 298-page written judgment even though the term had never before been used by an Arab court. When I told this story a year later during a training session with the Cambodian Genocide Tribunal judges, they came up with an intriguing compromise. They decided to insert “beyond reasonable doubt” in the English version of their Rules to avoid any criticism by human rights groups and the western media, but kept the phrase “to the satisfaction of the judges” in the equally authentic French and Khmer versions of the Rules.
Newton: There are dozens of other instances like these detailed throughout the book.
First name: Brianne
City: Savannah, GA
Question: How did you come up with the title for your book, “Enemy of the State”?
Scharf: As we describe on page 167, our title was actually inspired by Saddam himself, who uttered the phn on the last day of the trial. Here’s what happened: When his retained lawyers, including former US Attorney General Ramsey Clark, boycotted the closing arguments on July 26, 2006, the court-appointed public defender was asked to step in to do the closing argument for Saddam. But when the diminutive Iraqi lawyer shakily approached the podium, Saddam stabbed a finger at him from about six feet away, warning, “If you present the argument, I will consider you an enemy of the state.” This was said on live television, and the implication was clear: this was a death threat which Saddam expected his followers to carry out. After nervously taking a drink of water, the court appointed public defender proceeded to begin an impressive series of arguments that took around two hours. The Iraqis were assisted by a distinguished Canadian defense lawyer with a great deal of experience with international war crimes trials who was hired by the International Bar Association to assist the court-appointed defense counsel, but they made the arguments their own and added their own thoughts.. The Tribunal Defense Office lawyers, who did their duty in defense of Saddam and the other defendants despite the death threat, were subsequently nominated for the prestigious Rule of Law Award given by the United Kingdom Bar Association.
Newton: Saddam hoped his many tirades and political speeches would cement his legacy as a hero and the Father of the Iraqi people (a phrase he often used in court to describe himself). The trial instead proved that he was the real enemy of the state, and importantly did so on both television and radio with evidence and witnesses presented for all Iraqis to see and debate. This point was driven home in the final colloquy between Saddam and the presiding Judge, Ra’ouf Rahman, which we describe on page 169 of our book. Saddam said, “I’m sure you hear the sounds of weapons just as we hear them, though we are in jail. This is the sound of the people. Let us see how the Americans will face the people.” To this, Judge Ra’ouf replied, “You are provoking the killing of people by car bombs.” Saddam shot back, “I provoke against America and against the invaders. I urge to kill the aggressive invaders.” And then Judge Ra’ouf uttered one of the most astonishing statements of the entire trial. “If you are urging to kill Americans, let your friends of the Mujahideen attack the American camps and not blow themselves up in the streets and public places and cafes and markets. Let them blow up Americans.” In that moment, the world could see that the IHT judges were definitely not the American puppets they were accused of being, and at the same time these words effectively reminded the millions of Iraqis who were following the proceedings that Saddam cared little about their welfare. He was not a man of the people, but rather the true enemy of the state.
First name: Patrick
Question: Can you tell us about the dedication that appears in the front of the book, which reads: “Dedicated to Riyadh and John and all those who have sacrificed at the Alter of freedom and human dignity?”
Scharf: Riyadh was our translator during the judicial training session in London. He was a gregarious, portly, middle aged Iraqi with a bushy mustache who spoke English with a very pleasing British accent -- and we became fast friends. One of the most humorous stories we recount about the training sessions (see p. 74) was about Riyadh’s response when one of our fellow trainers said that the Iraqi judges had to be like pit bulls when it came to enforcing the standards of due process. Riyadh stopped translating abruptly, a puzzled look on his face. “What is this pit bull?” he inquired. “It is the dog that bites the neck and does not let go,” the trainer answered. “Do you really want me to say that?” Riyadh asked. “Because in my country, comparing someone to a dog is the worst insult of all,” he explained. “It is far worse than all of your English four-letter words combined. If I say that, the Iraqi judges will walk out of the room.” “What about the tree frog,” the trainer then asked Riyadh. “You know, the type of frogs in your southern marshes that suck on and don’t let go. Can you say they have to be like a tree frog?” Tragically, Riyadh was killed by assassins within weeks of after the London training session. He would have been the lead translator during the Saddam trial, a prestigious and important job he was looking forward to with a passion. While the media focused on the assassination of the three defense lawyers during the trial, several others like Riyadh also paid dearly for their involvement in the case.
Newton: Let me add a couple of notes about Riyadh – he was warned that he might be killed, but insisted on continuing to serve. On my second trip to Iraq, just a few days before he was murdered, he pulled me aside and warned me in strident terms: “Newton” he said, “it is much worse now than before. Be very careful please.” Riyadh’s courage and sacrifice were an example for all those who knew him, and his friends collected a substantial sum of money for his widow and children.
John was a young officer that I had taught while he was at West Point. He was an incredibly effective and dedicated young officer, who married into my family before he left for Iraq. He was killed in August 2007, and we used his name along with Riyadh to represent the tremendously inspiring dedication to duty and personal courage of those who have sacrificed so much so that Iraqis can live in a better world than the one dominated by the will and wickedness of Saddam Hussein.
First name: Margaux
City: Phnom Penh
Question: How is the Saddam trial relevant to other ongoing or soon to commence war crimes proceedings?
Newton: The lessons learned from the Saddam trial, which are highlighted in the concluding chapter of our book, are applicable to other war crimes trials, especially those involving a former leader who is bound and determined to hijack his trial and turn it into a political stage. In particular, appropriate limits to self-representation and the use of stand by public defenders will be critical to the success of the trial of Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic, which will begin in a few months in The Hague. The Dujail trial presents graphic lessons on the best techniques and the expertise needed for domestic judges to apply law derived from international norms to protect people. This, in my view, is one of the defining issues of our era.
Scharf: Hitler famously told his followers in 1939, “Who after all remembers the fate of the Armenians,” when they expressed concerns about implementing his genocidal policies. Pointing to the non-prosecution of Idi Amin, Pol Pot, and Saddam Hussein, Radovan Karadzic said essentially the same thing to his followers as they launched the campaign of ethnic cleansing in Bosnia in the early 1990s. Now, Saddam has been captured, tried, and executed. Karadzic has been captured and will soon face trial in The Hague. The surviving members of Pol Pot’s cadre are in custody and are about to be prosecuted. No future leader will be able to say “who remembers the fate of the Iraqi Kurds, the Bosnian Muslims, or the victims of the Khmer Rouge.” The era of impunity has been replaced by a new age of accountability. And genocidal leaders such as Sudan’s Omar Al Bashir, who was recently indicted by the International Criminal Court, will sleep much less easily knowing that international justice is patient and persistent.
First name: Jim Villers
Question: No question, Micheal Newton, You spoke at the Rotary Club of Brentwood last Friday and I bought the book. I could not put it down. Thank you to both of you for writing this book. I felt I was in the courtroom on many occasions, and in reality I kept thinking, these horrible acts against humanity happened in my lifetime. Thanks for being there and telling the story.
First name: Bill
City: New York, NY
Question: In Enemy of the State, you discuss some of the impact the Dujail trial will have on international law throughout the world and you discuss the importance of the Iraqis determining how they will apply international law to themselves, within the framework of their own unique legal system. What impact do you think all of this will have on the Iraqi legal system?
First name: Perry
Question: What punishments did the other defendants receive in saddam's trial? saddam was executed(hung).
Scharf: Saddam, Barzon, Judge al-Bandar, and Taha Yassin Ramadan were sentenced to death and ultimately hanged. One defendant was acquitted, and three others were given fifteen-year sentences. All other defendants were given a term of years or acquitted.
For more information, please see the discussion on page 171 of "Enemy of the State." Thanks.
First name: Larry
City: Calhoun Co., MI
Question: Shortly after Saddam was caught, C-SPAN interviewed a law professor from NYU who was en route to Iraq to adivse on how to conduct a Nuremburg-type public trial wherein would be recorded for all time the details of Saddam's genocide. I thought at the time this was a foolish mistake, and I think so now.
The situation called for finding two or three discrete cases of murder by Saddam which had plenty of eye-witnesses, hauling him into the Old Bailey of Baghdad, convicting him promptly of those two or three murders under the criminal code of 1930 (or 1916, or whatever), and then taking him out and hanging him, leaving the all work of piecing together the case of genocide to swarms of historians working for years into the future. Any remarks he tried to make during such a trial which did not apply to those specific murders would be ruled out of order, and silenced. This would have A) denied him the pulpit for public agitation; B) eliminated the lingering fear and anxiety among Iraqis that he might somehow beat the rap, and, C) brought the whole business to a conclusion many months sooner with much lower cost and much less foreign involvement.
Newton: I never saw an NYU professor in any of our training sessions and know of no one who was in Baghdad from that fine school. The decision on the forum and location for the trial of Saddam and other leading Ba'athists was perhaps the most controversial and enduring dimension of the trial, as it led to so many of the other difficulties and divisions experienced throughout the proceedings. We spend an entire chapter on this matter [Chapter 3 is entitled Hammurabi was an Iraqi: The Creation of the Iraqi Tribunal]. The short answer is that for all of the legal and political arguments, an Iraqi based process was the only possible vehicle for a criminal process. If the Iraqis had simply used the normal domestic courts, there would not have been able to use the modern laws of genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity as the basis of prosecution. They were adamant in the negotiations that they wanted to create the historical record of the crimes committed by the regime and to characterize them using the terminology of international law rather than prosecuting only a small fragment of the crimes using the preexisting domestic offenses.
First name: David Brussat
Question: Would you please explain the role of former U.S. Atty. Gen. Ramsey Clark, and give your reaction to his participation as one of Saddam's lawyers?
Newton: The former Attorney General has made a career of travelling around the world to participate in high profile trials where he has used the proceedings to rail against United States foreign policy. For instance, he described the ad hoc international mechanisms established by the UN Security Council to address the crimes committed in Rwanda and in the Former Yugoslavia as reflecting the "will of the United States to attack enemies in the name of the law." In a similar vein, Clark describes the processes of creating international tribunals, and the internationalized process used in Baghdad, as being "war by other means." He has argued in a number of contexts that criminal trials represent only a political effort to demonize the enemies of the United States [the Milosevic trial where the leader of the Serbs faced genocide charges in The Hague and the Ntakirutimana trial in which a Hutu leader faced charges for participation in the Rwandan genocide to name only two examples]. The issue of the legal authority used by the Coalition and the Interim Iraqi Government to establish the Tribunal and the later revalidation of the creation by the newly elected Iraqi government was a legitimate issue to raise at the beginning of the trial, but when the judges deferred a final ruling on those issues until the Judgment in accordance with Iraqi practice, Clark and the defense team engaged in an extended effort to delegitimize and disrupt the trial. In other words, they thought it would be sufficient to raise doubts about the process in the media and in the court of public opinion rather than engaging on the merits of the case in the court of law before a judge who exercised the power over the proceedings. The role of Ramsey Clark in the trial was controversial on a number of levels, and we discuss this issue for nearly fifteen pages in the book. Even though he did not go through the process mandated in the law to speak in open court, the presiding judge allowed him to do so after a 90 minute recess to consider the matter. After making some brief comments at the beginning of the trial, Clark was asked on CNN whether he would remain in Baghdad to continue a legal defense and replied that it would be a waste of his time. Surveys in Aman, Jordan at the time indicated that the population saw his involvement in the trial as another of the factors that contributed to the perception of trial as an externally imposed and abnormal judicial structure. Clark and the other defense attorneys engaged in obstructionist tactics that would have likely led to judicial reprimands and fines for contempt of court in almost any other jurisdiction in the world.
First name: David
City: Franklin, TN
Question: I was at Barnes & Noble last night and heard Michael Newton's great talk about the book. When I was paying for my copy, the salesperson told me the talk would be aired on TV at some point. Do you know when and what channel?
Newton: C-SPAN Book TV will air the discussion from the Barnes & Noble in Brentwood, TN on Sunday, November 9, at 11:00 AM and on Monday, November 10, at 1:00 AM.
C-SPAN Book TV Web site
The program will air again at the following times:
Sunday, November 23, at 2:00 PM
Monday, November 24, at 5:00 AM