Law Students Contribute to Iraqi Tribunals, Hussein Trial
Most law students are lucky to get their feet wet in real cases involving petty theft or assault. Several students at U.Va. are taking a once-in-a-lifetime class focused on far more serious crimes—with international implications. The Iraqi Tribunal Clinic, taught by visiting professor Linda Malone, allows students to research legal questions that tribunal judges need answered, and to contribute to holding accountable one of the world’s most notorious war criminals, Saddam Hussein.
“The clinic seemed like a unique opportunity,” said second-year law student Kristin Flood. The tribunals “might very well have repercussions for other international tribunals.”
Malone first taught the class in 2005 at the College of William and Mary’s law school, where she is Marshall-Wythe Foundation Professor of Law and director of the Human Rights and National Security Law Program.
“The Department of Justice wanted to find professors who had had substantial experience with international criminal law and tribunals in the past,” said Malone, who served as co-counsel to Bosnia-Herzegovina in its genocide case against Serbia and Montenegro before the World Court and as co-counsel to Paraguay in its challenge to the death penalty in Paraguay v. Virginia. “It was difficult to enlist the support of human rights organizations and many human rights advocates because the tribunal involved the death penalty and the U.N. for that reason alone indicated it could not provide its support,” she said.
Malone and other law professors at Case Western, Vanderbilt, and the University of Connecticut law schools offered to help through starting clinics. “Those of us who did get involved had to decide whether or not the availability of the death penalty and other issues that had been raised as to the reliability of the tribunal outweighed the need to seek justice against Hussein for the atrocities he had committed.”
As it turned out, students are especially equipped to handle the task because they have access to the substantial research resources available at educational institutions, and also are more available to focus on a particular issue than a practitioner would be.
Malone assigns questions relayed by the U.S. Department of Justice to pairs of students; each pair produces a 60-page memo that is shipped to Baghdad at the close of the semester. For many students, it will be the toughest class they will take in law school, requiring research into arcane sources on everything from Iraqi procedural law to international law to the statute establishing the tribunal. Some of the questions apply to international law, while others are unique to a particular tribunal, but don’t ask students for details. They aren’t allowed to discuss what they are researching.
“I think that one of the most rewarding parts for them is that they have seen the work they’ve done in what the tribunals are doing,” said Malone. The 12 students in the class range from being highly experienced in human rights advocacy work to having no experience in international law. “They sign up for it out of a strong sense of commitment,” Malone said. Despite the workload, “I have yet to have anyone say that it isn’t worth it.”
Malone said the kinds of questions students address have changed over time. With Hussein’s trial over for retaliating against an entire village for an unsuccessful assassination attempt there, questions are now turning to the next trial for his alleged genocide of Kurds with chemical weapons and other means, known as the Anfal Campaign. “There’s more of a focus now on process- and procedure-oriented questions,” Malone said.
Third-year law student Adil Qureshi signed up for the class because of his long-term interest in international law, the Middle East, and post-conflict justice..
“It also seems like an important way to promote stability in Iraq,” he said.
Students in prior classes compiled notebooks of sources that will prove invaluable in kick-starting their research, he added. The Iraqi tribunal—with its combination of local and international people and resources—represents the “wave of the future” in addressing crimes against humanity, he suggested.
“I hope I will be able to contribute to the international effort to make these trials as fair as possible,” Qureshi said, “and on a more personal level, for the victims, bringing a sense of justice that crimes that were perpetrated against them have been addressed by their government and the international community.”