by IslamOnline.net & News Agencies –
Iraqi Council Bristles At US Unilateral Move On Saddam
IslamOnline.net & News Agencies
BAGHDAD (January 10, 2004) – As the United States declared Saddam Hussein an enemy prisoner of war, the Iraqi Governing Council slammed the decision as taken by the American occupation forces without its consultation.
The US Defense Department named Saddam a prisoner of war after much legal wrangling, nearly a month after the fugitive strongman was discovered hiding in a small hole on a farm near his hometown of Tikrit, Agence France-Presse (AFP) reported Saturday, January 10.
US Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld was informed Friday, January 9, that Pentagon lawyers concluded that Saddam met the definition of an enemy prisoner of war under the Geneva Convention, Pentagon spokesman Lawrence DiRita said. However, DiRita said under the conventions, his legal status could be re-evaluated at a later date.
The BBC correspondent at the Pentagon said the decision to classify the former Iraqi leader a POW could ultimately affect what happens to him and how he might be put on trial. The US said PoW status had been given to Saddam Hussein as leader of the “old regime’s military forces,” and meant that he was eligible to stand trial for war crimes, he said.
On the other hand, some Iraqi Governing Council members bristled at Washington’s classification, angered they had not been consulted on the matter.
Although the decision does not affect current plans to try Saddam in Iraq, the Council members were annoyed that Saddam’s legal standing was decided by the US occupation alone, with no consultation.
Council member Judge Dara Nuraddin who helped set up the legal framework for a war crimes tribunal in Iraq, expressed dismay about the Pentagon’s latest decision. “We are shocked and are in talks with the Coalition Provisional Authority about it because we were not consulted,” Nuraddin said, referring to the US-led occupation administration.
But ultimately, Nuraddin, whose Kurdish ethnic group was reportedly mercilessly persecuted by Saddam, said the decision would not affect plans to put the fallen strongman on trial as soon as June in front of a five-judge tribunal.
“The Pentagon declaration does not matter to us. He is a criminal. He committed crimes against Iraqis and will be judged in Iraq in front of an Iraqi tribunal,” he said.
Another Governing Council member, Samir Sumaiydah, also reacted angrily to the fact the Pentagon did not defer to Iraq on Saddam’s fate.
“The status of the coalition forces is a transient status. They are not going to be here forever and the state of occupation will not last forever,” Sumaiydah, a Sunni Muslim, said. “So come the end of this period, which we hope will be the end of June, Iraq will revert to sovereignty. We feel from that point on at least, we will be in control of how to handle things like this”.
Sumaiydah worried Saddam’s status would now hinder the investigation into the crimes of the old regime. This might, for example, entitle him not to answer questions in the process of the investigation. “We want investigations to be conducted and want him to cooperate with investigators,” Sumaiydah said.
In the meantime, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), which guarantees the Geneva Conventions, said Saturday it saw little change after the US decision.
“The formal announcement that he is a prisoner of war changes nothing from our perspective,” ICRC spokesman Ian Piper said. Piper pointed out that Saddam was already entitled to visits from ICRC delegates to check on his conditions, including a private interview without the presence of guards.
The agency said on December 30 it had asked for access to the former Iraqi leader. “We haven’t visited him,” Piper said Saturday.
The right is extended under the Geneva Conventions to all people captured in a conflict, not only combatants regarded as prisoners of war, Piper added.
There are four Conventions, commonly known as the laws of war, including one laying out humane treatment for prisoners of war. The third Geneva Convention says that prisoners are only bound to give their name, rank, date of birth and equivalent information, and forbids physical or mental torture, or “any other form of coercion… to secure from them any kind of information whatever”.
“Prisoners of war who refuse to answer may not be threatened, insulted or exposed to any unpleasant or disadvantageous treatment of any kind”, the convention adds.
An ICRC spokeswoman in Iraq, Nada Doumani, said it was now essential for the US occupation forces to ensure that Saddam is granted rights enshrined in the Geneva Conventions. Under Article 82 of the third Convention Saddam may be exposed to legal proceedings.