- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 8, 2003

WASHINGTON, Jan. 8 (UPI) — The United States plans to bring senior Iraqi officials to trial if and when there is a war with that country, but the form those trials would take is still very much up in the air, the Bush administration tells United Press International.

There could be some effort to involve the international community.

Trials would be "more likely an international effort," a senior administration official said this week. " … The modality, how this process would be conducted, has not been decided."

President George W. Bush's national security team is considering a variety of trial venues, including "the U.N., The Hague, ad hoc tribunal, military tribunal," the senior official said. "A post-conflict Iraqi government could conduct some of these trials itself."

Much depends on the reactions of Iraqi officials if the United States and its allies invade.

Many analysts expect the Iraqi military to crumple like a paper cup in the face of ferocious allied firepower. However, if the fighting devolves into a desperate battle for the streets of Baghdad, the chances of atrocities or the use of chemical or biological weapons by the Iraqis may be increased.

How and to what extent the Iraqi leadership would be held to account would become more apparent "once there's a better grasp" of conditions on the ground during a putative invasion by the United States, Britain and other allies, the U.S. official said.

The United States has repeatedly warned Iraq that if its commanders order the use of chemical or biological weapons against U.S. or allied forces they would be held to account for war crimes.

Atrocities by Saddam Hussein's government are already well known and documented, and could form the basis of post-conflict prosecutions against Iraqi officials for crimes against humanity before an international tribunal.

The regime has used assassination and torture routinely to remain in power. The government used torture camps and chemical weapons against the Kurds in northern Iraq during the 1980s and in the 1991 uprising, and has all but annihilated the marsh Arabs in southern Iraq, exiled opposition leaders say.

Although an international tribunal requires the cooperation of other countries, simple war crimes trials conducted by the U.S. military could also prove problematic.

In November 2001, President George W. Bush issued a presidential directive authorizing the Defense Department to conduct military tribunal trials of al Qaida suspects and their supporters following the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks.

There are no plans at this point to issue a second directive in case of Iraqi war crimes, U.S. officials said.

Charles Hill, a distinguished fellow in diplomacy at the Hoover Institution, said the administration appears to be sending signals to Iraqi commanders before hostilities have a chance to start.

"There is way to make the (Iraqi) commanders fight to the death," Hill said Wednesday. "They wouldn't want to be in that position. However, there is a time to announce (the prospect of war crimes trials) wisely, and they (the commanders) may not fight at all … They may not follow orders."

Hill, who besides his Hoover duties is a full-time lecturer at Yale, believes the administration is timing its signals to precipitate the second scenario.

There are actually three avenues the administration could follow for post-conflict trials in Iraq, Hill said.

No. 1 would be war criminal trials, along the lines of "Nuremberg or Japanese trials after World War II, for commanders who would be charged with violating the rules of war. (The war criminal trials) would be conducted by the U.S. or the coalition."

No. 2 would be some kind of international tribunal such as those held under U.N. auspices for atrocities committed in the former Yugoslavia. "That was a breakthrough in a sense," Hill said, "because it was the first time that the U.N., the so-called international community as an entirety, agreed to conduct what was in effect a war crimes trial. Before that, (such trials were) always conducted by the victors."

No. 3 would be to prosecute Iraqi officials and commanders in an international criminal court. "I don't think the U.S. would want to do that," Hill said, "because of the precedent it would set."

Would U.S. military trials of Arab leaders run the risk of offending friendly Arab governments? Hill said that the political risks of conducting U.S. military trials in Iraq may not be as great as they first appear.

"There seems to be a coming to terms (in the Middle East) with the fact that Saddam Hussein has got to go within the major Arab regimes themselves."

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