- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 16, 2003

A member of the Iraqi Governing Council yesterday predicted a swift trial and execution for Saddam Hussein, as President Bush promised a fair trial for the captured dictator that “would stand international scrutiny.”

But human rights groups and some international legal scholars said the new Iraqi war-crimes tribunal — which issued the rules that will govern its procedures just last week — limits the role for the United Nations and international community, raising questions about the fairness of its procedures.

Mouwafek al-Rabii, a Shi’ite Muslim on the U.S.-appointed IGC, told reporters in Baghdad he thought a trial for crimes committed under Saddam’s 30-year rule could begin “very soon, in the next few weeks.”

With the U.S.-led coalition pushing to hand over sovereignty to a new Iraqi government at the end of June, “I can tell you, he could be executed July 1,” Mr. al-Rabii said.

Other council members said the trial could be held within the next several months.

But U.S. officials and other Iraqi leaders, including current IGC President Abdul al-Aziz al-Hakim, cautioned that the process might take much longer, as the criminal tribunal has yet to name any judges or legal staff.

Mr. al-Hakim, who led a delegation that visited Paris yesterday, insisted that the trial will be held in Iraq before Iraqi judges, not before any international body such as the International Criminal Court or a United Nations special panel.

Mr. al-Hakim said the Iraqi court could work under the “supervision” of international experts.

Mr. Bush said at a press conference yesterday that Iraqis must be in charge of the legal process for the ousted dictator and decide whether he would face the death penalty.

“I’ve got my own personal views of how he ought to be treated, but I’m not an Iraqi citizen,” Mr. Bush said. “It’s going to be up to the Iraqis to make those decisions.”

The president said fairness and openness are essential in the trial because “whatever justice is meted out needs to stand international scrutiny.”

The State Department said yesterday that Pierre-Richard Prospect, ambassador at large for war crimes, will travel to Baghdad early next month to discuss trials for Saddam and other senior regime officials.

A senior State Department official, speaking on background yesterday, cautioned that there was “a lot to be discussed” before any trial could get under way.

He said U.S. officials will be talking with Iraqis about basic legal, procedural and staffing issues concerning the new tribunal, and the interests of Kuwait and Iran, both of which were invaded by Saddam, will have to be taken into account.

“Clearly, there are a lot of different interests at play,” the official said. “One should not expect this to be a quick and rapid process.”

International legal scholars said two issues loom large in the preparation for Saddam’s trial, expected to be one of the most celebrated international legal confrontations since the Nuremburg trials after World War II.

One is the death penalty, which many of America’s closest allies in the Iraqi war oppose, and the other is the makeup of the Iraqi war-crimes tribunal.

“Working with a tribunal where the death penalty is an option would be a huge problem for many in the international community,” said Diane Marie Amann, a specialist in international law at the University of California-Davis.

Sir Jeremy Greenstock, Britain’s special envoy to Iraq, said yesterday his country “could have no part of a tribunal or process that had the death penalty as one of its penalties,” although Prime Minister Tony Blair’s government also said it supported the idea of Saddam being tried “in his own culture.”

U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan said yesterday the world body would not support bringing Saddam before a tribunal that might sentence him to death.

Although the death penalty has been largely abolished in Europe, it still commonly is practiced in the Arab world. Iraq has had a death-penalty statute since its formation as a modern state in 1921, and it is the U.S.-led coalition that imposed a brief moratorium on the practice until a new Iraqi government takes full power.

Laurence E. Rothenberg, an international trade lawyer and now a fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said it would amount to “judicial imperialism” to forbid Iraq to execute Saddam.

“This has long been an accepted part of Arab culture,” he said.

Both specialists said a bigger battle loomed over the composition of the Iraqi tribunal and whether international experts will be allowed to sit in as more than just advisers to the Iraqi jurists and lawyers.

The governing rules for the tribunal, drafted with help from U.S. advisers, call for international law experts to participate as advisers in war-crimes trials, but says they can serve as judges only if appointed by the IGC.

Ms. Amann said similar war-crimes panels for East Timor, Kosovo and Sierra Leone all came with U.N. authorization and all included international representatives as judges, both to ensure expertise on complicated international legal issues and to serve as a brake against the passions that domestic victims of the defendants might bring to any trial.

Private rights groups, including Human Rights Watch and the Lawyers Committee for Human Rights, have said such international representation is mandatory to ensure balance and expertise on the Iraqi tribunal, but it was not clear whether Iraqi leaders were prepared to include them.

• Betsy Pisik contributed to this report in New York.

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