- The Washington Times - Monday, October 10, 2005

Proposed changes in the practices of the Iraqi Special Tribunal that will try Saddam Hussein next week would weaken the tribunal without offering any new protections to defendants, the former head of the tribunal said.

“There is a bill right now in front of the Iraqi National Assembly to amend the current statute of the tribunal,” said Salem Chalabi, who stepped down as head of the war crimes tribunal in September 2004.

“Some of these amendments have to do with limiting the role of international involvement,” Mr. Chalabi said last week at a conference at the American Enterprise Institute, a Washington-based think tank.

Mr. Chalabi, nephew of Iraq’s deputy prime minister, Ahmed Chalabi, was the head of the tribunal when it was established in October 2003 but was removed after being implicated in the killing of a finance official. He was subsequently cleared of all charges.

The existing statutes of the tribunal were drafted to conform to established international practices, Mr. Chalabi explained.

But the changes being contemplated by the National Assembly would more closely follow the practices of the Iraqi criminal courts — which was not the intention when the tribunal was set up, he said.

The tribunal was set up two months before Saddam Hussein was captured, under legislation drafted by a committee of lawyers and experts in the prosecution of war crimes.

Mr. Chalabi also said that if Saddam’s lawyers succeed in an ongoing effort to postpone the trial, the prosecution of the former dictator could suffer.

“Saddam’s defense attorneys will have more time to look at laws that are put in place and talk about the legitimacy of the [U.S.-led] invasion,” he said.

Saddam is scheduled to stand trial on Oct. 19, on charges of ordering the 1982 slayings of 143 persons in Dujali — a Kurdish village northeast of Baghdad. Further trials on other charges are possible.

Looking beyond the Dujali massacre trial, Mr. Chalabi said the proposed amendments to the tribunal’s practices would reduce the body’s validity without protecting the rights of persons on trial.

He also expressed concern over the insurgency in Iraq, saying the violence is thwarting attempts to rebuild the country.

On paper, Iraqis are protected under human rights laws, but in practice conditions are not favorable for reconstruction efforts, Mr. Chalabi said.

Calling for a separation of the judiciary and legislative branches of the government, he said: “It is a separate judiciary, but in practice it is not clear and does not stand up to the politicians.”

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