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INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENTS

Will Cameras at Saddam Hearings Provoke Show Trial?

Aired July 3, 2004 - 19:30:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


AA GILL, CNN ANCHOR: Hello. I'm AA Gill, in London. Welcome to CNN's INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENTS, where we examine how the media are covering the big stories of the moment.
We begin with the image that the world was waiting for, Saddam Hussein, downcast and gaunt, but defiant of spirit, making a first appearance since his capture last December.

The footage of him in court is being broadcast across the world and if Thursday's coverage was anything to go by, his actual trial promises to be an even bigger television spectacle. But with cameras in the courtroom, will this turn into a show trial?

Guy Raz takes a look at how television has shaped trials in the past.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

GUY RAZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): "The banality of evil." That was writer Hannah Arendt's searing description of the case against Nazi commandant Adolf Eichmann. Eichmann's 1961 trial in Jerusalem was a cathartic moment, the first time Jews began to openly discuss the horrors of the Holocaust. It was also the first time television cameras provided live wall-to-wall coverage inside a courtroom, foreshadowing the emerging power of the medium.

MARK STEVENS (ph), MEDIA LAWYER: Public accountability is through television these days. It's through the broadcast media, and the electronic public gallery, if you will, is in fact the new form of the public accountability of the courtroom.

RAZ: Some televisions proceedings, like the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in South Africa, reveal the hitherto unfilled gaps in the dark history of apartheid, gaps that helped heal a wounded nation. And for all the flaws of the post-war Nuremberg trials, newsreel footage was able to show the public that previously feared men, like Goering, Streicher and Hess, were now in custody.

But as the ongoing trial of former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic has shown, cameras in the courtroom often give the accused a public platform to attempt to revise history. Milosevic has been positively defiant, challenging the legality of the international community in the Hague, at times mocking the proceedings, and that defiance has actually increased Milosevic's popularity in Serbia.

The defiance displayed by Saddam Hussein in his first appearance in court could do the same to his popularity in Iraq, but media lawyer Mark Stevens (ph) believes a televised trial would help the country as well.

STEVENS (ph): I think it's very good, because what it does is reassures the public, or should reassure the public, that justice is being done publicly. Everybody can see that this isn't a fix, and as a consequence it restores the faith, it restores faith in justice and it restores faith in openness and integrity of the judicial system.

RAZ: With cameras in the courtroom, Saddam Hussein no doubt would attempt to speak to them rather than the judges, and for Iraqi viewers an unprecedented chance to finally judge the dictator for themselves.

Guy Raz for INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENTS.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

GILL: I'm joined now in Baghdad by John Burns, "New York Times" correspondents. John was the pool journalist inside the court on Thursday. And CNN's Brent Sadler.

John, can I come to you first and ask, did you feel that heavy hand of history on your shoulder in the court there yesterday?

JOHN BURNS, "NEW YORK TIMES": Well, I think reporters do best when we forget about grand and just get on with the job, and it was a busy day, but I knew that I was hugely favored. There must have been to say the least several hundred reports in Baghdad and many thousands around the world who would like to have been there. I just got lucky this time. I don't usually win out on pools.

Inhibiting, yes, it was inhibiting, because you know that the interests of so many others ride on your shoulders, and you've got very little time to absorb it all and to carry away an image that can endure.

As it turned out, the strangest thing, as I felt it was, just how banal the man was, and in some ways the occasion was, to cope with this. You heard the chains coming down the corridor, the clanking chains of his - - go ahead.

GILL: Let me go to tape from that point and go to Brent Sadler. And, Brent, you were out in Baghdad. How did this report go down with the people on the street?

BRENT SADLER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I was watching the televised images along with everybody else, in between the power cuts here in people's homes, and, you know, they were used to seeing Saddam Hussein and his cronies appearing on television every night of their lives through the propaganda machine that relentlessly worked in overdrive here, and very often the sound was cut. You'd hear strains of Vivaldi over the pictures as well.

In the eyes of many Iraqis, it wasn't far off that yesterday. To begin with, there was no sound. There was a lot of censorship, as John was talking about, a lot of control with that courtroom, and I can tell you, Iraqis didn't like it one little bit.

GILL: John, was there a sense that this was a show trial put on as much for your behalf as it was for justice?

BURNS: No, I have to say I think that that's a bad rap. I think you have to ask the question another way. If Saddam Hussein is to be put on trial and if it's not going to be an international tribunal, which of course is a strongly arguable case, how else could this have been done?

Obviously, the defendants have to be secure. Who can do that? Only the United States. Therefore, only a United States military base will serve. They put on this, if you will, an Iraqi face, but it's a real Iraqi face. Nobody who saw that judge yesterday could have any doubt, and Saddam Hussein certainly didn't, that he is an Iraqi, and he's operating under Iraqi law.

And as far as I could see, what they heard and saw yesterday was the beginning of a fair process and, indeed, although Saddam contested it, many of the other 11 were almost pathetically grateful and I would say astonished when their rights were read to them, which included, of course, the right to counsel, the right to have that counsel paid for, the right to remain silent, and many of them seemed relieved and crying "Thank you, thank you," when these rights were read to them.

So I would say for the moment that's a bad rap. At least on this, let's give the Americans a fair run. They have set this tribunal up. They're trying to make it as authentically Iraqi as they can. And yesterday, to my mind, that wasn't a problem.

GILL: Brent, can I ask you, what's the expectation for this trial in Iraq? And what do you personally think is going to happen?

SADLER: I'll just pick up on what John was saying there. Yes, it is a trial, a tribunal, with an Iraqi face, but Iraqis aren't used to seeing this kind of judicial process taking place in their own country behind closed doors let alone in front of television cameras, and the initial impression I get very strongly from many Iraqis I spoke to yesterday in various neighborhoods and again today, 24 hours after the event, is that they saw Saddam Hussein broken and bewildered last December when he was captured. This time they see him in a way the monster partly reconstituted.

All right, he's powerless, but still they see him coming back. Where it will lead him, nobody knows. Most people want him to be executed if you ask them in the streets. And they really felt that he should have been given the treatment of someone who is on trial for the gravity of allegations that are laid against him in terms of war crimes and genocide and so on and so forth.

So there really is a mixed emotion here among Iraqis. Iraqis do want to see their country move forward, of course they do, and part of that moving forward process, part of the healing process from Saddam, is to have such an event as this.

But there is also a great deal of concern that, like Milosevic, Saddam could try to use this trial here in its later stages as it continues to try and improve his own standing in the Arab world at large. What damage might he be able to do? And that's one of the concerns here, one of many concerns.

GILL: Can I pick that up with you, John, and say if Saddam puts on a good show in this case, personally, you don't think there's a danger of him becoming a focus for more resistance and also something of a martyr?

BURNS: No, I don't, actually. I think two things are getting confused here. There is no doubt that the American occupation, now formally ended though apparent still in every street of the country, was very unpopular. Probably 80 percent of the Iraqi people, according to polls, condemned it towards the end.

But I don't think you should make a transition from that to say that 80 percent of the people of Iraq have forgiven Saddam Hussein. They absolutely haven't. They're separable events. These people want to run their own country and they want it to be run decently, so there is widespread (UNINTELLIGIBLE) and hatred for Saddam Hussein.

There is an audience out there. They're the people who are throwing bombs and shooting rockets, as they did over my shoulder this morning in the square that your viewers will be able to see, but they are, I believe, ineffective. But they are a small minority. And I don't think anybody should conclude that the Iraqi people are stupid. They know what --

GILL: Just finally, could I ask you, Brent Sadler, do you think this is going to draw a line under the Ba'athist regime?

SADLER: From the perspective I view it, and I know many of these people that we saw in court yesterday, Tariq Aziz I knew pretty well, I'm sure you did as well, John. Yes, I think it's drawn a very clear line between that old -- the old masters of Iraq and the new masters. Absolutely -- John.

BURNS: I agree. I think it is an extremely important process. I think the resonance of this around this part of the world will be great as the people of the Arab world begin to feel that, probably for the first time, many of them, in their living rooms, what this man really did.

GILL: John Burns, Brent Sadler, thank you.

Time for a quick break. When we come back, journalists who risk their lives to get the story from behind the lines.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

GILL: You're watching INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENTS here on CNN.

Their acts of violence are broadcast around the world, yet the perpetrators of these horrific crimes remain shrouded in mystery. So who are these insurgents? How are they thinking? What are they after.

Two very daring journalists went to find out just that and risked their own lives to get the story. "Time" magazine's Michael Ware in Baghdad and Hala Jaber, investigative reporter for the "Sunday Times of London." Hala has just returned this week from Iraq.

Hala, can I start with you. Just tell us briefly, for those who didn't read the story, what it was you did.

HALA JABER, "SUNDAY TIMES OF LONDON": I met with one of the hostage- holders of -- the Italian hostage-holders who also filmed the execution of the Italian hostage late in April, and the interview is basically about what happened, his last days with him, up to the moment when the executions took place, and why.

GILL: It was a very moving story.

JABER: It was incredible to hear someone talk about (UNINTELLIGIBLE) the execution of any person and talk in a room in very intimate details about it, his last moments, his last words, the political argument between them as he is leading them to the site of the execution.

GILL: Michael, let me turn to you. You've written a chilling background description of what's happening with the insurgents in Baghdad. How did you get to get that story?

MICHAEL WARE, "TIME": It's taken me a long time. More than a year ago, I started attempting to make contact with the resistance. At that stage, it was very small, loosely formed, largely just angry locals.

Over time, I watched it develop and grow. I wrote about this last year. I've not seen a significant shift. The foreign jihadis, the Osama bin Laden inspired fighters who entered Iraq, have had a significant influence on the Iraqi fighters. And in turn, have Islamisized them and made them a part of the global jihad.

So the war her has changed, and I learned that by being with the resistance.

GILL: Michael, a lot of fellows have been killed and have been kidnapped. Why do you think you have a charmed life there?

WARE: Well, it's in many ways a lot about calculated risks.

I mean, I put a lot of time in with these contacts and with these men who identify themselves as Mujahideen. It hasn't been easy. I've been tested and retested and pushed and prodded and it's been a long journey. But this experience, this recommendation or reputation, can only carry me so far and it's something I always need to factor in.

I minimize that, but there is a story there to be told that, frankly, is vital. We need to know what the dynamic is here and sometimes we have to take one little step further to find out.

GILL: Hala, can I ask you, obviously you're a woman and you're also a Muslim. Has that made it more difficult or easier, do you think?

JABER: Sometimes being a woman in certain aspects has made it more difficult, because there is a very male macho mentality there, and they can't quite comprehend the fact that I am a woman.

But after you go beyond that hurdle, the fact that I am a Muslim sometimes, a lot of times, makes it that much easier. On this particular occasion, again, it was a similar situation, not particularly with this guy but with people I knew who knew this person. It was a relationship of contacts I was working for a period of time. They had learned to trust how I am covering certain things and have learned to trust that if they say or give their word that we are OK with them, to a point that I would be OK with them.

GILL: Michael, can I ask you, journalists never talk about being frightened themselves. Do you get frightened?

WARE: I've certainly had moments. Yes, I mean, there have been times in investigating these stories and being with the resistance, where I've felt that I've made perhaps the last mistake of my life, on two particular occasions. And each time, that's involved the change of mood. I'm sitting with fighters that I know, who have known me for a long time, and suddenly an X-factor (ph) walks into the room.

In the past, that was a former member of Saddam's secret police. He sought permission to execute me. But as a guest, my host forbade that.

I had a recent situation where some of these men turned on me outside of Fallujah and I thought they were going to harm my translator. That situation too was diffused, but it's on a hair's breadth.

GILL: Hala, can I ask you, when you cover this story, your personal involvement is huge. Do you think that colors the way you write? Is it like being imbedded?

JABER: No, it's totally different from being imbedded.

To start with, I go of my own will where I want. OK -- the location is their decisions. You follow certain rules as to how to get and why and where. But they don't dictate the story.

They talk a lot. You ask them 100 questions and they give you a lot of answers. And you also have a point where you can debate with them or argue with them about something or another.

So it's not just what they say that you're going to have to write. I don't think it's that situation at all.

GILL: Michael, can I ask you, finally, do you ever worry that you're being used as a mouth piece?

WARE: Absolutely, that's something that I must factor in when I'm dealing with these foreigner Iraqi resistant fighters. But, similarly, that's exactly what I'm factoring in when I'm imbedded with an American unit and I have a public affairs officer grafted to me constantly. They're showing me and letting me see and hear only what they want. It's the same with the Mujahideen.

So it's something we must factor in on both sides, but I make it very clear, I'm here to tell a story. I'm not here to push a message. Anything I see and anything I hear is in the public domain.

GILL: Michael Ware, in Baghdad, thank you very much. And Hala Jaber, here in London. Thank you.

We'll take a quick break now and when we come back, the Middle East conflict through the eyes of the cartoonists.

Don't go away.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

GILL: Welcome back.

Just sometimes the picture that cuts through the reams of newspaper is a scribble. A cartoonist can turn a person of stature into a figure of mirth. Such is the power of the caricature as they lampoon life and the world around us. Covering the Middle East conflict, however, is probably the toughest task for cartoonists. A new exhibition at the "Guardian" newspaper in London chronicles the conflict over the past 50 years.

I'm joined now by Tim Benson, a cartoon historian. I think that a historian of cartoons is not a badly drawn person.

TIM BENSON, CARTOON HISTORIAN: That's correct.

GILL: Tim Benson, thank you for coming in.

These are all British cartoons of the Middle East crisis, from the 1950's to the present day. How have they changed?

BENSON: Well, basically, what we've put on here is a visual history of the Middle East crisis from 1917, the Balfour Declaration, when the British government decided to grant the Jewish people a national homeland, having already promised the Arabs the same thing, to the present day.

GILL: Cartoons in general favor the underdog.

BENSON: They do.

GILL: The early cartoons seem to be very, very, very supportive of the Israeli state, seeing them as being underdogs. Then, of course, now cartoons are almost always critical of Israel, aren't they.

BENSON: They are, especially for the last 20 years. The Palestinians are deemed to be the underdog, where as it had been the other way around.

GILL: Is there a moment when you can see that changing?

BENSON: It's difficult, because in a way you can say that the Israelis, if you look at the whole of the Middle East situation, then the Israelis become the underdog, when you look at them surrounded by hostile Arab states. So it's a question of perception, isn't it.

GILL: There are some people who might say there are some things you really can't make cartoons about, like suicide bombers, but there are cartoons here of people wearing suicide explosive belts. Do you think the Middle East has been particularly difficult for cartoonists in terms of, you know, the violence there?

BENSON: It's something of an emotional minefield. And the fact is that any cartoonist that is very critical of Israel and dares to portray an allusion either to the Israelis former oppressors, the Nazis, in comparison to what the Israelis are doing or using the imagery of the Star of David, there is a very strong Zionist lobby with lobby groups such as Honest Reporting that come down very hard and make a great deal of fuss.

GILL: There is, of course, you have in the exhibition a cartoon of Sharon, taken from Goya, of Saturn eating his children, and it's of Sharon eating a baby, which harks back, I think, to the Medieval blood libel that the Jews ate babies. This is.

BENSON: (UNINTELLIGIBLE) intended this to happen. It's just a straight allusion to the Goya painting, which was in itself anti-Semitic. Unfortunately people have picked up on this, of Sharon eating the baby. The cartoon is not even anti-Israeli. There are no Stars of David. It is basically an anti-Sharon cartoon.

GILL: Are there any of these cartoons that have actually made you laugh? Because I was sitting here looking at them -- is it sometimes you think they're very clever and sometimes you think they're spot on, but none of them is every really very funny.

BENSON: But why should they be funny?

GILL: Isn't that the point of a cartoon?

BENSON: Not at all. That's the point of a gag cartoon. The point is, they're political cartoons drawn by political cartoonists who are trying to make a point.

GILL: Tim Benson, thank you very much.

That's all for this edition of INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENTS. Tune in again next time for another look at how the media are handling the big issues. I'm AA Gill, thank you for joining us.

END

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