"Weapons of Mass Deception"


The other Chalabi

There is more to Salem Chalabi than meets the eye. Shahin Shamsabadi looks into the background and connections of the director of the Iraqi tribunals

As the debate over the legitimacy of the Iraqi trials rages on many critics have uncovered a web of business and family networks that currently operate in the new United States- backed Iraqi judiciary. At the head of these networks stands the looming figure of Ahmed Chalabi, and his shadow is dauntingly cast upon all the processes of the judiciary, including those leading up to the showcase trial of former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein.

A further blemish on the legitimacy of the new Iraqi administration came with the appointment of Salem Chalabi, nephew of Ahmed Chalabi, as the general director of the tribunals. His role empowers him to appoint a panel of seven judges as well as four prosecutors to partake in the trial proceedings of the high-profile former Baath leader and his administration.

Critics opposed to the selection of Salem Chalabi, to the role that his position grants him, and to the fact that the trials constitute a detour from the International Criminal Court (ICC) system have emphasised that his role in the formation of the court system, the structure of the settings and the judges is naturally in conflict with his appointment of the prosecutors. The question is: how can a single individual be the director of the tribunal system and still guarantee a fair trial to the accused as well as the victims when he is the one who has also appointed the prosecution?
When questioned about the scope and structure of the tribunal system, Salem Chalabi responded by saying, "We'll tailor the trial procedures in such a way that shows we learned the lessons of the Milosevic trial. We don't want the tribunal and people like Saddam to be the principal tellers of history here. We want to bring very specific charges. And the defendants would only be allowed to bring witnesses and make their cases in connection with those specific charges."

Many have found these comments alarming and believe that Salem Chalabi is seeking to ensure that Saddam's "dirty laundry" and his correspondence with world leaders are not revealed. His use of the word "tailor" has aroused the suspicion that the newly created court system is illegitimate, and that the verdicts have already been reached. The US and the Iraqi interim government have emphasised that the trial will be fair and just, but the proceedings leading up to the trial as well as the first glimpse of Saddam Hussein in court have given out a different impression.

Opposition to Salem Chalabi's role in Iraq lies not only with his obvious family ties but is also based on his distinct lack of strong credentials. The challenge to his legitimacy as a justifiable appointment is that his qualifications are predominantly comprised of his graduation from Northwestern University Law School in 1994 and his work at Clifford Chance LLP, a London-based firm for sollicitors carrying out commercial-based legal work.

Another alarming facet of his lack of credentials is his distinct influence and involvement in the legal writ of the new Iraqi constitution. The question yet to be answered is: how can someone with fewer than 10 years of experience in commercial law be appointed to head what is possibly one of the highest profile criminal cases ever?

The controversy surrounding Salem Chalabi's involvement in the tribunal system and administration is not only comprised of his lack of qualifications and foresight in his directorial role but is additionally complicated by his business and personal relationships, particularly his connections to Marc Zell and Douglas Feith. Similar to other involved parties in the Iraqi administration, Chalabi has joined the ranks in setting himself up to profit from the networks of connections that are increasingly evident in the reconstruction of the war-torn nation.
Seeking to profit from the situation in Iraq, Chalabi established the Iraqi International Law Group (IILG), which advertises itself as providing access to private investors to the new Iraq. Originally, the group's website was registered by partner Marc Zell and the address given was that of Zell's Washington office, Zell, Goldberg & Co. The firm claims to be "one of Israel's fastest-growing business- oriented law firms". Since then the website has been removed and the registration list has been modified to include Salem Chalabi.

Zell, originally from Washington DC, acquired Israeli nationality when he moved to the Jewish settlement of Alon Shevut in the West Bank. He has a distinct interest in Zionism and has been involved with the Gush Emunim -- Bloc of the Faithful -- movement. The Gush Emunim movement claims that the occupied territories of 1967 were given in accords to Israel by God. He has become a spokesperson for Israeli settlers and holds connections with Benjamin Netanyahu and the Likud Party in Israel.

The connection between the three individuals becomes clear when taking Zell as the missing link. For many years up until 2001 Zell had been a partner of Douglas Feith, the current US undersecretary of defence -- the third highest civilian position in the Pentagon. Their firm, FANDZ -- a play on the names, Feith and Zell -- had bases in both Tel Aviv and Washington. It was set up when Feith initially left government service, and its goal was to represent Turkish and Israeli business interests. When Feith received his appointment to the Pentagon in 2001, he formally withdrew from FANDZ.

Feith has been publicly linked to Israeli lobbyist organisations, Richard Perle, prominent neo-conservatives as well as the Likud Party. His involvement has been such that he advised Netanyahu to abandon the Oslo peace process, and when the Israeli prime minister continued the negotiations, Feith broke away.

Feith has a direct connection with Ahmed Chalabi and his feeding of misinformation regarding the alleged weapons of mass destruction in Iraq and the consensus of the Iraqi people in acceptance of the US as an occupying power. Feith is now also being implicated in the Abu Ghraib prison scandal because of his office's responsibility in the post-war planning.
Even if one gives Salem Chalabi the benefit of the doubt over his role in Iraq, we are already witnessing the plausible failure in the new Iraqi judiciary. Our first glimpse of this has been in the Saddam Hussein trial and the identification of Raid Juhi as the judge in the proceedings. Similar to Chalabi, not much information is available on the background of Juhi; all that is known is that he holds a law degree from Baghdad University and is 33 years old.

A light amount of digging will reveal Juhi's name in connection with the United States, the Interim Governing Council and pre-war Iraq. Prior to becoming the appointed judge by Chalabi to the regime trials, Juhi worked as a translator and was subsequently appointed by the former US Civilian Administrator in Iraq Paul Bremer. He acted as the judge in the investigation of Muqtada Al-Sadr and accused the cleric as party to the murder of Abdul-Majid Al-Khoei, a Shia cleric in Najaf. These accusations led to a heated confrontation between Al-Sadr's supporters and the Coalition forces in Najaf and Karbala.

Juhi also served as a judge for 10 years under the former Iraqi regime, a position he was later forced to recognise during the trial when confronted by Saddam.

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Milton Frihetsson, 01:27


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