Former deputy Aziz denies any part in crimes

By Harvey McGavin

The Independent

02 July 2004

Eleven former aides of Saddam Hussein appeared in court yesterday charged alongside their former leader with crimes against humanity.

The men, including the English speaking former deputy prime minister Tariq Aziz, the regime's best known spokesman in the West, and Ali Hasan al-Majid, known as Chemical Ali, are facing charges.

Aziz, the only Christian in the top Baath party leadership, echoed his former president's defiance. He denied having any part in the crimes, asking the judge for an Arab, non-Iraqi lawyer and a "foreign lawyer as well". "I need to know. Are these charges personal?" he asked. "Is it Tariq Aziz who is accused of these killings?"

"If there was a crime the moral responsibility rests with the leadership," he said. "But a member of the leadership cannot be personally responsible. I never killed anybody by any direct act."

The men, who are appearing at a specially convened court at an American air base, appeared shrunken by their imprisonment, according a reporter allowed into the courtroom. The US military handed the 12 men over to Iraqi legal custody on Wednesday, but will continue to guard them.

Majid, Hussein's cousin, earned the nickname Chemical Ali for his alleged part in ordering the gas attack on Kurds in Halabja in 1988. Five thousand people died in a single day when the town was attacked with bombs containing nerve and mustard gases. He is also implicated in the wider campaign of ethnic cleansing, known as Anfal (Arabic for spoils) carried out in the same year in northern Iraq.

The other "high value detainees" who are due to stand trial are Taha Yassin Ramadan former vice president of Iraq; Aziz Saleh al-Numan, the Baath Party Baghdad regional command chairman; Barzan Ibrahim al-Hassan al-Tikriti, a presidential adviser; Kamal Mustafa Abdullah al-Tikriti, secretary of the Republican Guard; Saddam's son-in-law, Muhammed Hamza al-Zubaydi, the retired revolutionary command council member; Sabir Abdul Aziz Al-Douri, governor of Baghdad; Abid Hamid Mahmoud al-Tikriti, the presidential secretary; Watban Ibrahim al-Hasan al-Tikriti, a presidential adviser and Saddam's half brother; and Sultan Hashim Ahmad, defence minister.