- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 30, 2004

BAGHDAD — Saddam Hussein and up to a dozen top members of his regime will formally be turned over to Iraqi legal authorities today, although they will remain in the physical custody of U.S. and other foreign soldiers.

The former dictator is to appear before a judge tomorrow to be formally charged with some of the most grievous crimes in any law book.

A day after the transfer of political authority to Iraqis — which had been advanced by two days over fears of security — Iraq remained relatively calm, but three U.S. Marines were killed in a roadside bomb attack in Baghdad.

Prime Minister Iyad Allawi, who was sworn in at a secret ceremony Monday, yesterday announced that Saddam and the other “high value detainees” would lose their POW status and be indicted under Iraqi law.

“This government has formally requested the transfer of the most notorious and high profile detainees,” he told reporters here, as Justice Minister Malik Dohan al-Hassan stood beside him.

“These people … will face justice before the special Iraqi court created in January to trymembers of the former regime for crimes against humanity, genocide and war crimes,” he said.

Details of Saddam’s appearance at the court are carefully shrouded in security, although some authorities suggested that the judge may visit him in detention, rather than parading the former dictator on the ultimate perp walk.

Although news of the transfer has been floating for some time, the announcement early yesterday afternoon was likely intended to show the Iraqi people that the new government is exercising its authority.

“We would like to show the world that the Iraqi government means business,” said Mr. Allawi, who said the Iraqi government had not yet decided whether the tribunal could impose the death penalty.

Among those expected to be charged under Iraqi law tomorrow: former Deputy Prime Minister Tariq Aziz; Ali Hassan al-Majid, the general known as “Chemical Ali” for his purported role in ordering the use of chemical gas in the Kurdish town of Halabja; and former Vice President Taha Yassin Ramadan.

Iraqi and American officials yesterday vowed that every stage of the proceedings in the newly created Iraqi Special Tribunal (IST) will be conducted in public to bring credibility to the proceedings, which will not begin for several months.

The tribunal will be administered by Salem Chalabi, the nephew of Ahmed Chalabi, the former Governing Council member who has been accused by his former Pentagon supporters of spying for Iran.

Salem Chalabi told CNN yesterday that the charges to be brought against Saddam could include:

• The use of chemical weapons in the 1988 attack on the Kurdish town of Halabja.

• The Anfal campaign of 1988 against the Kurds in the north.

• The killing in 1963 of 5,000 members of the Barzani clan to which Kurdish leader Masoud Barzani belongs.

• Iraq’s 1990 invasion of Kuwait.

• Crimes related to Iraq’s 1980-88 war with Iran.

• Crimes related to Saddam’s bloody suppression of a Shi’ite uprising in southern Iraq after U.S.-led forces drove Iraqi troops out of Kuwait.

In Washington, Iraq’s representative to the United States, Rend Rahim, said the special court would begin proceedings long before the national elections scheduled to be held in January.

“The sooner we get Saddam Hussein in the courtroom the better for Iraq, because there is a cleansing and reconciliation process that will take place in that trial,” Mrs. Rahim said at the American Enterprise Institute. “It is a reverse trauma that Iraqis need to go through.”

The trials “could happen in the coming weeks,” she said. The process could start off with the trial of such lesser figures as “Chemical Ali” who has a mound of evidence stacked against him, she said.

The IST, created in December, will have five investigating judges per chamber, who will establish the facts of the case in the tradition of European Common Law and not in U.S.-style jurisprudence.

But U.S. legal advisers will likely exercise considerable behind-the-scenes influence over the proceedings.

Two dozen experts have already been dispatched to Baghdad by the Justice Department’s Regime Crimes Liaison Office (RCLO), which was established just six weeks ago to help foreign governments try their deposed tyrants.

When the trial process is ramped up, the RCLO will send 75 technical experts to support the IST staff, one participant said yesterday.

The laws of the special tribunal will be based for the most part on existing Iraqi criminal code, which U.S. and Iraqi legal experts say is fine on paper but was never properly applied.

U.S. advisers said yesterday that the IST is an Iraqi effort, and added that they are there merely to support the investigations and train staff.

“The infrastructure to allow a new court to try these kind of cases doesn’t exist yet,” the U.S. expert said. He said the American advisers would leave only when they believe the Iraqis no longer need them.

Human rights experts have long argued that some international participation is vital to a trial such as this, where national legal systems or their senior practitioners have been compromised by decades of abuse and isolation.

European jurists also complain that the possibility of the death penalty hobbles their participation.

“We feel that the death penalty sends a message of vengeance, not justice, even though we know there is popular support for it in Iraq,” said Hania Mufti, the Iraq representative of the New York-based Human Rights Watch.

Miss Mufti said that U.S. participation in the tribunal is important, but cautioned that Washington must not dominate the process.

Sharon Behn contributed to this report in Washington.

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