Friday, June 18, 2004

Iraqi authorities hope to see Saddam Hussein face capital charges punishable by hanging when he stands trial sometime after June 30, the head of Iraq’s special tribunal on war crimes said yesterday.

Salem Chalabi also said the Iraqi government expects to file charges quickly against Saddam and other top members of his regime once it assumes authority at the end of the month.

Saddam “may be charged relatively soon,” said Mr. Chalabi from Baghdad. “We can expect movement after June 30. We are working the arrangements out.”

Although the charges remain to be decided, Saddam has been widely accused of crimes against humanity, genocide and war crimes. According to the Statute of the Iraqi Special Tribunal, if any of these acts was committed by a subordinate, he would not be relieved of criminal responsibility.

Asked whether Saddam could face the death penalty, Mr. Chalabi answered “Yes,” adding that Iraqi law stipulated death by hanging for civilians and by firing squad for soldiers.

The death penalty in Iraq has been suspended by U.S. Administrator L. Paul Bremer, but the law is still on the books and Mr. Chalabi said members of the Iraqi government have discussed reinstating it after June 30.

“I suspect it is not unlikely they will do that,” he said.

Complicating the decision, however, is pressure from international donor countries trying to tie aid to keeping the moratorium in place.

U.S. and Iraqi officials were at odds this week on when Saddam would be handed over to the Iraqis, with President Bush insisting that the new government first demonstrate that it can hold him securely.

But Mr. Chalabi said the sides were negotiating a compromise, possibly involving an arrangement in which Iraq would have formal custody of Saddam and other detainees, but coalition forces would continue to secure them.

U.S. forces have not disclosed where they are holding Saddam, who was captured Dec. 13, and his family-appointed lawyer, Jordanian Mohammad Rashdan, has complained loudly of his inability to meet his client.

“They started on December 14 to work against Saddam Hussein, and they will give me [only] a small period to prepare my case against them. Is this justice?” asked Mr. Rashdan from his home in Amman, Jordan.

“I want permission to visit my client. If I don’t get it, they must tell the people in the U.S.A. why. We are not in the jungle,” he said.

Mr. Chalabi argued yesterday that Saddam and the other high-value detainees did not require legal representation until they are formally charged.

“Once he is charged or an arrest warrant filed, then he gets these rights as an accused party in a criminal trial and then he may be entitled to counsel,” Mr. Chalabi said.

Retained by Saddam’s exiled wife and three daughters, Mr. Rashdan has accused U.S. authorities of physically abusing Saddam during questioning and branded Iraq’s newly formed government as an illegal entity that has no right to try the former president.

He made available an International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) form dated Jan. 21 that said Saddam was injured.

The brief report, which is mostly written in Arabic, checked off a box stating that Saddam was in good health, but also checked off a box affirming that the deposed leader was “slightly wounded.”

“After one and a half months of detention, how come he is ‘slightly wounded’ unless he was treated in a bad way?” asked Issam Ghazani, one of a number of lawyers who work with Mr. Rashdan in Jordan.

But ICRC officials said reports of the kind shown by the lawyer normally are filled out by the prisoners. They also said “slightly wounded” was a vague term that could cover anything from a graze to a more serious injury.

The ICRC did not visit Saddam in Iraq until February. ICRC representatives in Washington said confidentiality practices prevented them from discussing specifics of that visit.

Mr. Rashdan’s team also provided The Washington Times with a copy of a letter from Saddam to his daughter, which was delivered through the offices of the ICRC. Two large sections of the handwritten missive were blacked out by U.S. authorities for security reasons before it was delivered.

Mr. Rashdan and his team said they had been given full power of attorney to defend Saddam and were demanding all information pertaining to his case.

“We had a strong meeting with the Red Cross and told them we wanted all their documents,” he said, adding that Red Cross officials reported Saddam had been questioned by both the CIA and Marines.

“We are very worried. Until this moment, no one has been able to meet him,” Mr. Rashdan said. He said he had written to Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld demanding the right to meet with his client.

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