To see Saddam on a trial was something that Iraqi people couldn't even imagine. A former dictator standing in the well of the courtroom and being tried on evidence publicly presented for the Iraqi people and for the world to see... and to make their own judgments. That is the first step towards the rule of law. The hope was not that he would be punished, that was entirely secondary all along, but that the entire system which was beheaded would be put on trial.
The trial began in October, 2005, two years after Saddam's regime toppled. Iraq was a volatile mix of violence and politics and an insurgency, hostile to the American occupation, was growing. The US government hoped that bringing the former dictator to justice would help build democracy in the new Iraqi nation. But events outside the courtroom threatened to undermine the trial.
In December, 2003, President Bush's representative, Paul Bremer, and a counsel of leading Iraqis governed Iraq. They established the Iraqi High Tribunal to try Saddam Hussein and his regime. To assist the new court the US Department of Justice created the RCLO - The Regime Crimes Liaison Office - a team of lawyers and investigators.
They wanted to establish a court where for the first time people were going to be tried based on evidence presented in the court. Not like courts that Saddam had, where there would be a knock in the middle of the night, and you'd be whisked off at eight o'clock at night to the revolutionary court, tried by ten, convicted by two in the morning, and dead by six.
Investigators collected evidence for 14 criminal cases against Saddam's regime. In a desert town of al-Hatra a mass gravesite was uncovered. There were 300 bodies, women and children only, virtually all with a gunshot wounds in the back of the head. It was evidence in the most notorious case - Saddam's campaign to exterminate Kurds in the 80's.