- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 19, 2005

The trial of deposed Iraqi president Saddam Hussein, which got under way yesterday, recalls the war crimes trials in Nuremberg, Germany, after World War II during which dozens of Nazi officials were convicted.

The Nuremberg trials, Saddam’s trial and other war-crimes proceedings “have important historical significance that most trials don’t, since they create a record of a system of atrocities committed,” said Diane Orentlicher, professor of international law at American University.

The Nuremberg trials, conducted between 1945 and 1949, were the first war crimes trials conducted by the victor of a war in modern times. They were organized by the United States, the United Kingdom, France and the former Soviet Union.

In contrast, Saddam is the defendant in a “domestic” trial being held by judges in his own country who were not part of the former dictator’s regime, said Nicholas Kittrie, professor of law at American University.

“There are not many domestic trials” of this type, Mr. Kittrie said.

The trial will focus on a somewhat little-known atrocity that occurred in Dujail, Iraq, in 1982, three years after Saddam came to power. After the dictator’s motorcade was fired on as it passed through the town, a government helicopter sprayed bullets on residents, who were rounded up and either killed or deported.

This incident is described as a “crime against humanity,” meaning an offense Saddam committed against his own people, Mr. Kittrie said.

He pointed out that the Nuremberg trials marked the first time in an international proceeding that “crimes against humanity” charges were brought against a sovereign nation. Today they are standard.

Slobodan Milosevic, the former Yugoslav president, is charged with genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity for “ethnic cleansing” and other crimes carried out in Croatia, Bosnia and Kosovo during various periods of the 1990s. He could get life imprisonment.

The panel deciding his fate is the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia. It is the first international war crimes court established since the Nuremberg and Tokyo trials after World War II.

Milosevic’s trial began in February 2002 and still is running.

Ms. Orentlicher said the length of that trial was a factor in why Iraqi prosecutors limited the charges they are bringing against Saddam. She said judges “hope to avoid a protracted trial that could last years.”

Mr. Kittrie agrees adjudication of international laws via international U.N. tribunals “take forever” and says it doesn’t help that the United States refuses to support that system. He says it is a “promising development” that some countries are electing to try their own suspected criminals.

Ms. Orentlicher said a key issue in Saddam’s defense will be the legitimacy of the court trying him. She said he will be charging that the court is a “puppet” of the United States.

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