- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 27, 2003

Once Iraq is liberated from Saddam Hussein, one of the most critical challenges facing the allied coalition will involve creating a legal mechanism for trying war crimes and serious human rights violations committed by the deposed dictator and others accused of serious crimes.

Some have suggested trying Saddam and senior aides responsible for helping him carry out atrocities against the Iraqi people before an international criminal tribunal established under the enforcement authority of the United Nations Security Council. The main argument for this is that, by doing so, the Bush administration can begin to improve its relationship with Security Council members who opposed U.S. policy on Iraq, including France, Russia and China.

We believe that this would be a bad idea. Given France's active efforts to sabotage Washington's attempt to secure the peaceful disarmament of Iraq, it would hardly serve U.S. interests or the interests of world peace to invest such authority in countries like France, which have behaved irresponsibly when it comes to dealing with Saddam Hussein. No careful, prudent U.S. statesman should turn Iraq policy over to a body like the Security Council, where President Jacques Chirac's government wields veto power.

Aside from the problems inherent in turning such a serious matter over to the Security Council, there's another problem with letting the U.N.-created judicial bodies handle this. As attorneys Lee Casey and David Rivkin, veterans of the Justice Department during the Reagan and first Bush administrations, wrote on the op-ed page in yesterday's edition of The Washington Times, these courts "have a distinctly colonial air about them." The tribunal investigating Yugoslav war crimes, for example, does not include "a single judge from the states of the former Yugoslavia, over which it exercises authority." Since Iraq and its backers are already trying to smear the coalition policy as a dark, imperialist venture, any scheme which appears to substantiate this is something to be avoided.

Another option turning things over to a new International Criminal Court (ICC) has problems as well, in particular the fact that it could have to take referrals from the Security Council. Such an arrangement would require the agreement of France, China and Russia Saddam's leading defenders.

Messrs. Casey and Rivkin have put forward a better idea: allowing the liberated Iraqis to set up institutions for trying Saddam and any other surviving members of his cabal. As the United States has rightly opposed fatally flawed schemes such as the ICC, it is in our interest to show that national court systems in democratic states are up to the task of trying suspected war criminals. A good place to start would be by giving the liberated Iraqi people themselves the opportunity to try the ousted Ba'athist leadership.

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