War crimes trial will be biggest since Nazis

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Indy Politics

The arraignment of Saddam Hussein will be the biggest war crimes trial since the prosecution of the leading Nazis at Nuremberg at the end of the Second World War.

Although the stage is set, there are still competing claims for where and who should try the 66-year-old former dictator. The Iraqi Governing Council insists that the Americans will want to hand Saddam over to them so that they can put him on trial at a special court in Baghdad.

International jurists would prefer a United Nations tribunal along the lines of the one established to prosecute those accused of the war crimes committed in the former Yugoslavia. The Americans have yet to declare their hand but are unlikely to support an international court, possibly made up of judges from countries who have consistently opposed the war.

The most likely forum is the Iraqi war crimes tribunal that was set up on Wednesday with the express purpose of prosecuting leading members of Saddam's government for genocide and crimes against humanity. At the time, the Iraqis even envisaged bringing a case against Saddam in his absence should he fail to fall into the hands of the Americans.

Adnan Pachachi, a member of Iraq's Governing Council, gave assurances yesterday that Saddam would face open, public trial inside Iraq. "There's no question that the process will be an Iraqi process," he said.

Another council member, Mouwafak al-Rabii, said any trial would be conducted in accordance with international norms. "Iraq is truly victorious now because of the arrest of the tyrant, but we won't lose sight of human rights and international standards," he said in Baghdad.

Charles Kennedy, leader of the Liberal Democrats, said Saddam Hussein should face an international court. He said: "I hope he could be now put in front, in due course, of an international court to be dealt with appropriately." The United Nations and the International Criminal Court should be brought into play as the "precarious" position in Iraq meant it would not be practical to hold a trial on Iraqi soil, he added.

Anthony Scrivener QC, a human rights barrister and former chairman of the Bar,said it was important that there should be a real international dimension to the tribunal set up to hear the case against Saddam. "What we don't want to see is a military tribunal or purely Iraqi court. He must be given every opportunity of a fair trial so that in years to come people won't be able to claim that he was treated shoddily," Mr Scrivener said.

Under the constitution of the new Iraqi war crimes tribunal there is some provision for the inclusion of international judges, for lawyers to represent the defendants and an appeals system. But groups such as Human Rights Watch are concerned that the court retains the power to impose a death penalty and may be vulnerable to "revenge justice".

Human Rights Watch said that the new law did not require that judges and prosecutors have experience working on complex criminal cases and cases involving serious human rights crimes. Nor does the law permit the appointment of non-Iraqi prosecutors or investigative judges, even if they have relevant experience investigating and prosecuting human rights cases.

"Up until now, the most complex trials in Iraq have lasted no more than a few days," said Richard Dicker of Human Rights Watch. "The law should require that international judges with expertise trying serious human rights crimes sit on the bench alongside Iraqis. [They] would assist, not replace, Iraqi judges in ensuring justice."

Amnesty International said Saddam should be given prisoner-of-war status, and should be allowed visits by the international Red Cross.

Nicole Choueiry, an Amnesty spokeswoman, said: "Like any other criminal suspect he is entitled to all relevant safeguards under international law, including the right not to be subjected to torture or ill-treatment."

The charges are expected to be framed as widely as possible and to go back as far as 17 July 1968, the day Saddam's Baath Party came to power.


Genocide: Allegations of genocide are expected to include the gassing of Iraqi Kurds in the 1980s. After the 1990-91 Gulf war, evidence emerged of 270 mass graves across Iraq.

Crimes against humanity: The torture and imprisonment of thousands of Saddam's people are in breach of international laws. Individual victims of torture will be able to testify against him to support the charges.

Murder: In 1996, he ordered the killing of two of his sons-in-law who had defected to Jordan the year before. Iraqis whose relatives were murdered by the regime could hold Saddam liable for deaths in his name.

Waging illegal war: Saddam's war against Iran, in which one million people died, and his invasion of Kuwait were in breach of international law.