Wednesday, October 1, 2003

After months of U.S. interrogation, dozens of high-profile Iraqi officials from Saddam Hussein’s regime will soon face charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity.

Former torturers and executioners still living in their homes would also be rooted out and forced to take the stand under a war-crimes tribunal that the Iraqi Governing Council expects to set up within the coming weeks.

“It is universally accepted that the crimes of the previous regime were extensive and vicious,” said council member Samir Shakir Mahmoud in Baghdad.

“All those people buried in mass graves, all those people who were killed, all those people tortured … were victims. And they were victims in the hundreds of thousands, if not in the millions.

“All those crimes were perpetrated by somebody, and the Governing Council is determined to see that justice is done and that it will be seen to be done,” the Associated Press quoted Mr. Mahmoud as saying.

The remains of thousands of people have already been exhumed since the U.S.-led forces toppled Saddam in May, as desperate families search for the truth of what happened to their loved ones.

But there is some concern that the tribunal, set up by Iraqis with the input of U.S. State Department, Pentagon and Coalition Provisional Authority officials, may not reach the necessary international standards.

“Our call was always for a mixed proposal, with Iraqis in the process, but also with the international community lending support and expertise,” said Alistair Hodgett, spokesman for Amnesty International in Washington.

The risk of not having had international organizations such as the United Nations involved in the process, he said, would leave the tribunal open to disturbing accusations that it was a “proxy process.”

“It is critical that it be fair and equitable,” he said.

Mr. Hodgett said the Iraqi judicial structure and system at this point simply did not have the legal expertise and basic legal resources that would allow for fair and complete trials.

“We reserve comment until it comes out, but it’s difficult to see how solely relying on Iraqi expertise or expertise provided by the U.S., how that [process] can be fair and comprehensive.”

U.N. officials declined to comment on the draft statute, first reported in The Washington Times on Tuesday, saying they would rather wait until the document was finalized before speaking with regard to its legality.

U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric said the United Nations’ position had always been that “it is important that the Iraqis themselves decide how best to address human rights violations of the past.”

Iraqi-American lawyer Sermid Al-Sarraf said that in his interviews with lawyers, human rights groups and civic organizations, the overwhelming opinion was that the court should be a national tribunal with international support.

“The tribunal is being created on accepted principles of international law,” Mr. Al-Sarraf said.

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