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By Ross Colvin
Baghdad - The Iraqi court that sentenced Saddam Hussein to hang this month was guilty of shortcomings so serious that a fair trial for the former president was all but impossible, an international rights watchdog said on Monday.
There were so many procedural flaws that the verdict could be viewed only as unsound, New York-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) said in a 97-page report on the trial, which it said was among the most important since Nuremberg after World War 2.
It lambasted Iraqi government officials for making statements it said had undermined the independence of the court.
"The tribunal squandered an important opportunity to deliver credible justice to the people of Iraq. And its imposition of the death penalty after an unfair trial is indefensible," said Nehal Bhuta, author of the report that was based on dozens of interviews with judges, prosecutors and defence lawyers.
Saddam and seven others went on trial a year ago for crimes against humanity over the killing and torture of hundreds of people from Dujail after gunmen tried to kill Saddam there.
The United States opposed an international tribunal, despite concerns Iraq's violence could stand in the way of justice.
The death penalty imposed on Saddam and two co-defendants this month came as little surprise to observers of the chaotic, stop-start trial that was marred by the murder of three defence counsel and the resignation of the first chief judge.
"The attitude of the cabinet towards the court and the trial is one of a consumer who pays money for a product," one judge told HRW. "The government treats the court like a factory."
The report said the judiciary lacked the expertise for such a complex trial and urged the government to let experienced international jurists take part directly in future trials.