Legitimacy of Iraq Court To Be Challenged

July 2nd, 2004 - by admin

Rory McCarthy and Jonathan Steele / The Guardian – 2004-07-02 15:08:47


BAGHDAD (July 2, 2004) — The complexities of preparing the case against Saddam Hussein became apparent within weeks of Iraq’s special tribunal being set up at the end of last year.

Salem Chalabi, the US- and British-educated lawyer who runs the tribunal, spoke then of his frustrations at sifting through the evidence, finding competent, unbiased judges, securing jails and courtrooms and protecting witnesses. He warned it could take up to two years to bring Saddam to trial.

Now a courthouse and judges have been found and the Iraqis have agreed to let the US military continue to guard Saddam and the other detainees until the Iraqi security forces are up to the job.

Court Was Created by US Appointees
But that still leaves several issues unsettled. Saddam’s lawyers will challenge the legitimacy of the court, which was set up by the governing council, a now disbanded group of advisers appointed by the US occupation authorities. The fact that the tribunal is being run by Mr Chalabi, nephew of one of Iraq’s most vociferous Saddam opponents, Ahmad Chalabi, will also raise questions over neutrality.

Amnesty International has said the terms of the Iraqi special tribunal needed to be changed. The statute, it said, did not prevent arbitrary arrest or the torture of detainees to extract confessions. It also suggested there was a lack of expertise among Iraqi judges in tackling cases involving human rights and crimes against humanity. Other human rights groups have noted there is no requirement for proof beyond a reasonable doubt.

US Rejects Independent, International Trials
Both the US and the new Iraqi leadership want to run the trial themselves and resisted any suggestion of creating an independent, internationally staffed war crimes tribunal like those working on the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda. That fits comfortably with Washington’s reluctance to sign up to the International Criminal Court, but inevitably means a shortage of experience and the danger of vengeful justice.

The Iraqis and the Americans want a short trial and will make every effort to stop Saddam turning his appearance into a political campaign. That approach will also have to be carefully crafted if they are to avoid running a kangaroo court. Although the occupation authorities banned the death penalty, Iraq’s new political leaders have warned it may be reintroduced for special cases.

Perhaps the biggest hurdle may be the logistics of amassing evidence. The process may be seriously slowed by sifting through thousands of unsorted documents to find the papers that definitively prove Saddam issued direct orders for the most heinous crimes of his regime.

Few would deny there is a longer term military imperative to conducting a trial that is seen by all sides as impeccably fair. Lieutenant General Thomas Metz, the second most senior military commander in Iraq, said it was important the trial did not “become a carnival and something that the insurgents of the Ba’athists or anybody can say wasn’t proper. We have invested too much, we have come too far not to do those last couple of steps with Saddam correctly.”

Iraq’s human rights minister, Bakhtiar Amin, said last night that Saddam must not be allowed to use his trial as a political platform. “We must learn from the experience of Milosevic’s trial at the international war crimes tribunal in The Hague and not repeat its mistakes,” he said.

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