Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD)

SLUG: 7-38369 Trying Saddam Hussein




TITLE=Trying Saddam Hussein

BYLINE=Judith Latham



EDITOR=Carol Castiel



INTRO: Shortly after Saddam Hussein's capture in December [12/13/03], the Iraqi Governing Council created a tribunal designed to try him and the key members of his former regime. But human rights advocates say Saddam Hussein's crimes transcend Iraq and warrant an International tribunal. Legal experts continue to debate the best way to try the former Iraqi dictator for crimes he committed over a period of nearly 35 years. In today's Dateline Judith Latham talks with experts about how the tribunal might be held in Iraq itself while incorporating the lessons from other international tribunals.

TEXT: The Iraqi court created to try Saddam Hussein for crimes against humanity, war crimes, and genocide will rely primarily on Iraqi judges and on Iraqi laws for sentencing.

JL: Ruth Wedgewood is professor of law at Johns Hopkins' School for Advanced and International Studies in Washington. She says Iraq is the most appropriate venue for trying Saddam Hussein.


"I think the proposal of the Governing Council to try him at home makes sense because so many of the most serious crimes that he committed were at home. Ironically, it can almost be a cure for the divisions among the Iraqis. When it comes to who was a victim of Saddam, whether you are Kurdish or Sunni or Shi'a or Turkmen, all communities were hurt by him. So, I think the trial of Saddam in an Iraqi court with some international assistance will be a unifying event. There will be at least an interim Iraqi government that will claim sovereignty. It would take until the summer time to even begin to get the proof in shape anyway. You obviously can't do the entire 30 year history of Iraq, but they will have to choose emblematic incidents that show that each community was victimized."

JL: Amatzia Baram, professor of Middle East history at the University of Haifa, says an international tribunal would offer other advantages, although he agrees that there are real merits to conducting a trial in Iraq.


"It's very easy to go to The Hague or Brussels; in addition it's very safe. In Iraq it would be less safe. And finally, no one would be able to accuse an international court consisting of well-known international lawyers and judges of any bias. The disadvantages are that it would be far from Iraq. Saddam Hussein and his people committed created their crimes against their own people. And we would like Iraqis to feel as if justice is done on their own soil - and on their own terms. Most of the judges should be Iraqis, and there are a few judges who have been consulted about such a possibility. They are very good people. And Saddam Hussein will have the right to be defended by any lawyer he chooses. I believe Iraqis are absolutely capable of carrying out a fair trial. It would also be much easier to get the witnesses to come and tell their story."

JL: Professor Ruth Wedgewood says she anticipates that providing security during the trial of Saddam will pose a serious problem, but she thinks there are ways to address the matter.


"They will have to do it in a base within a base within a base because the Ba'athists and any visiting members of al-Qaida would love to make this an occasion to intimidate people - kill the witnesses and kill the crowd. There will have to be extraordinary security to make this come off."

JL: But Professor Baram, a senior fellow at the U-S Institute of Peace in Washington, says there are other difficulties of holding a trial in Iraq, such as getting European jurists to participate because, under Iraqi law, capital punishment is allowed.


"In Europe you don't have the death penalty, but you do in all the Arab countries. I, too, am against the death penalty on principle. But in this particular case, a man who is responsible for the death of at least a million people, this is mass murder on a scale that only in Cambodia that we have seen with Pol Pot or Hitler of course or Stalin. I think in this particular case the death penalty should be allowed. So many Iraqis were affected by Saddam's crimes - almost every extended family."

JL: Bruce McKay, who served as counselor to the prosecutor at the Special Court for Sierra Leone, which addressed atrocities committed during the civil war, acknowledges that the challenges of setting up a court in Iraq are daunting.


"The process of getting this court up and functioning will be horrific. You need an infrastructure. There is none. You need supplies. There are none. You need data processing support. There are 1,001 things you will need, and they do not exist at this point, and there is no one who can put them into place as of yet. Once that process begins, the ideals on which these tribunals are funded can be put into practice - that all are innocent until proven guilty, that all are entitled to a full and fair hearing of their case in court before impartial judges."

JL: Professor Ruth Wedgewood of Johns Hopkins explains that Saddam Hussein's trial will most likely be based on the model developed to try the perpetrators of the civil war in Sierra Leone. But, in Saddam Hussein's case, the Iraqi judges will outnumber the international jurists.


"The Iraqi model and the Sierra Leone model are almost mirror images of each other. In Sierra Leone, it is a majority of international judges and international prosecutors and a minority of local folks. In Iraq it is going to be a majority of Iraqi judges and a minority of international judges. But they are both examples of a so-called 'mixed' tribunal, which allows you to have the credibility and language skills of local people and to have the trial be in the community. And at the same time to have something of the 'trade-craft' that has been developed in the international courts over the last 10 years."

JL: Professor Wedgewood explains that the tribunals set up to try Saddam and his chief lieutenants will most probably take place before a panel of judges with legal assistance from an international staff.


"The statute that has been approved by the Governing Council and approved by Ambassador Jerry Bremer on behalf of the Provisional Coalition Authority provides for Iraqis as trial judges but also the possibility of appointing non-Iraqi judges. And it requires the assistance of non-Iraqis in both the prosecutor's office and in the trial and appellate chambers of the court itself."

JL: (OPT) Ruth Wedgewood says she has "mixed views" about whether it would be wise to provide television coverage of Saddam's trial so that it can serve the function of both justice and catharsis for the Iraqi population, as many people urge.


"There is nothing in the statute about it. You don't want this to become a soapbox for Ba'athist revival. It clearly is something that Iraqis will want to be informed about on a regular basis. It can be very intimidating for witnesses who might still fear revenge by Ba'athist elements when they go home, if they have their faces on TV." (END OPT)

JL: Justice Richard Goldstone of South Africa, the chief prosecutor of the United Nations International Criminal Court for Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia, is a leading figure in the field of human rights law. Justice Goldstone says the recent tribunals in South Africa, Rwanda, and the former Yugoslavia will serve as a model for trying Saddam Hussein.


"His crimes were massive, leaving hundreds of thousands of victims in Iraq and in Iran, especially among the Shi'ites who dared to oppose him, and the Kurds against whom he committed a horrible genocide. And, as with all these other places, the victims of Saddam Hussein cry out for justice and for official acknowledgement."

JL: However, it is unclear when the trial of Saddam Hussein might begin. Legal experts note that it can happen only after full authority has been transferred to an Iraqi government that is elected in a manner legitimate in the eyes of the Iraqis.

For Dateline, I'm Judith Latham.


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