CNN reports accusation of political timing of Saddam Hussein verdict, without noting administration's pattern and practice

››› ››› BRIAN LEVY

CNN reported a claim by Saddam Hussein's lawyer that the release of the verdict in his trial on charges of crimes against humanity two days before U.S. congressional midterm elections is timed to influence that vote, but CNN did not provide evidence that might lend credence to such an accusation: If true, this would be far from the first time that the Bush administration has timed an Iraq- or national security-related event for political advantage.

Two October 29 reports on CNN repeated a claim by Saddam Hussein's lawyer that the release of the verdict in his trial on charges of crimes against humanity two days before the Nov. 7 U.S. congressional midterm elections is timed to influence that vote. However, CNN did not provide evidence that might lend credence to the accusation: As Media Matters for America documented, if it is true that the administration has exerted its authority over the Iraqi court in this manner, this would be far from the first time that the administration has timed an Iraq- or national security-related event for political advantage.

As noted by the weblog Eschaton (written by Media Matters senior fellow Duncan Black), on the October 29 edition of CNN's Sunday Morning, CNN anchor Betty Nguyen reported that "[a] letter from Saddam Hussein's lawyer to President Bush ... accuses the White House of trying to time the verdict before the midterm elections." In a later segment, CNN video correspondent Arwa Damon reported that Saddam lawyer Khalil al-Dulaimi "accuses U.S. President George Bush and the U.S. administration for deliberately orchestrating the date" so that the verdict in the first trial of Saddam -- involving allegations that he committed mass murder in the Iraqi town of Dujail -- will be announced "just two days before the midterm elections." Damon continued: "We were expecting a verdict mid-month. It was, however, delayed." On the October 29 edition of CNN's Reliable Sources, CNN anchor T.J. Holmes said, "The verdict is to be announced a week from today, a date Saddam Hussein claims is timed to the U.S. elections two days later."

On October 3, the Associated Press reported that the Supreme Iraqi Criminal Tribunal (SICT) "postponed the verdict" beyond October 16 -- the date it was originally expected. On October 16, the AP reported: "A verdict against Saddam Hussein and seven co-defendants charged with crimes against humanity in connection with an anti-Shiite crackdown in the 1980s will be announced Nov. 5, a senior court official said Monday."

As Media Matters noted, SICT was established on October 9, 2005, by the Iraqi interim government for the sole purpose of trying Saddam and members of his regime for war crimes and crimes against humanity. Though the SICT is a creation of the Iraqi government, it is heavily influenced -- legally and financially -- by the U.S. government.

Media Matters noted several documented and reported instances of the Bush administration manipulating the timing of announcements or actions for political benefit. For instance, a September 7, 2002, New York Times article reported (subscription required) that the White House's "meticulously planned strategy to persuade the public, the Congress and the allies of the need to confront the threat from Saddam Hussein" was timed for "after Labor Day." The Times article quoted then-White House chief of Staff Andrew H. Card Jr.: "From a marketing point of view ... you don't introduce new products in August."

As Media Matters noted, the Los Angeles Times reported on October 11, 2004, that the Bush administration planned to delay major assaults on insurgent strongholds in Iraq until after the 2004 U.S. presidential election, fearing large numbers of U.S. military casualties. Recently, as Media Matters noted, on the October 24 broadcast of the CBS Evening News with Katie Couric, CBS News White House correspondent Jim Axelrod reported that a White House official told him, "[D]o not expect to see anything significant prior to Election Day" "as far as a significant change" in the Bush administration's Iraq policy and then quoted the official as saying: "You're not going to see anything before November 8th. It would be political suicide, and Karl Rove would never allow it."

From the October 29 edition of CNN's Sunday Morning:

NGUYEN: Well, a letter from Saddam Hussein's lawyer to President Bush -- it warns violence in Iraq will worsen if Hussein is found guilty. It also accuses the White House of trying to time the verdict before the midterm elections. The letter was emailed to CNN's Baghdad bureau.

[...]

NGUYEN: Saddam Hussein on trial -- his lawyer on the offensive. Now, the attorney has written a letter to President Bush, and it warns of more violence in Iraq if Hussein is found guilty. CNN's Arwa Damon joins us now live from Baghdad.

Arwa, we understand that this letter questions the expected timing of the verdict, which, right now, could happen next Sunday.

DAMON: That's right, Betty. In this letter, Khalil Dulaimi -- he is the chief attorney for Saddam Hussein's defense team -- accuses U.S. President George Bush and the U.S. administration for deliberately orchestrating the date that the Dujail verdict will be heard so that it lands just two days before the midterm elections. We were expecting a verdict mid-month. It was, however, delayed. In that letter, Dulaimi also blames the U.S. administration for the violence that we have seen here, for sectarian violence that we have seen increasing here, and warns that if Saddam Hussein and his co-defendants are found guilty in the Dujail trial, that there will be only more violence.

From the October 29 edition of CNN's Reliable Sources:

HOLMES: Onto Saddam Hussein now. His lawyer says there's going to be trouble if the former Iraqi president's trial ends with a conviction. The verdict is to be announced a week from today, a date Saddam Hussein claims is timed to the U.S. elections two days later. Hussein's chief lawyer says he's written a letter to President Bush warning him, quote, "against the death penalty and against any decision that would inflame a civil war," end quote.

Posted In
Elections, National Security & Foreign Policy, War in Iraq
Network/Outlet
CNN
Show/Publication
Reliable Sources, CNN Live Sunday
Stories/Interests
2006 Elections
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