Fri, Jun 25, 2004 - Page 7 News List

Republicans urge Saddam trial

POLITICAL MANEUVERING?Some of US President George W. Bush's allies hope that putting the former Iraqi dictator on trial will highlight the successes of the war in Iraq

REUTERS AND THE GUARDIAN , PHILADELPHIA AND LONDON

US President George W. Bush is under pressure from Republican allies to have former Iraqi president Saddam Hussein put on trial swiftly, a move they hope might boost support for the Iraq War before the November presidential election.

Putting a spotlight on Saddam's record of execution and torture could help shore up public support for the invasion damaged by a US prison abuse scandal, Senator Arlen Specter, a Republican, said on Wednesday.

Specter said he has been lobbying Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney and White House Chief of Staff Andrew Card to expedite Saddam's trial to as early as August.

White House spokesman Scott McClellan said US and Iraqi officials were discussing the timing of Saddam's trial.

"We would like to see him face justice as soon as possible by that tribunal," McClellan said, but added, "I'm not putting a time frame on it."

Specter, a senior member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, is seeking the administration's support for a Senate resolution that calls for Iraq's interim government to put Saddam on trial "as soon as possible" following the June 30 transfer of limited authority. Aides said Specter was gaining support for the non-binding resolution from fellow Republicans in Congress and said the measure had the backing of some Democrats as well.

"To try Saddam would put a lot of other issues in perspective," said Specter, who accompanied Bush on a visit to Philadelphia. "What Saddam did sort of fades from memory ... Our prestige is on the line."

McClellan was supportive of the effort but said several steps had to be taken first.

"First of all, you have to have the transfer of sovereignty before you can turn over detainees like Saddam Hussein. Then the tribunal, we expect, would be making a request at some point," McClellan said.

The US plans to turn over legal, but not physical, custody of Saddam and some other prisoners to the Iraqi interim government soon after it takes over on June 30.

Bush has refused to hand over Saddam physically until the Iraqis can ensure he is being held in an adequately secured detention facility.

"Those are issues we're discussing with the interim government," McClellan said.

Saddam Hussein may be behind bars in an undisclosed location, facing trial and possible death, but he does not want to be forgotten.

In his first published letter from jail, the fallen dictator claims his spirits are up and he's faring well.

"And say hello to everyone," he insists.

The details thereafter are scarce. Nine out of the 14 lines of Saddam's letter, made available by his lawyers and first published on Newsweek magazine's website, have been blacked out by US military censors. Only 17 Arabic words remain of the scribbled note to his eldest daughter, Raghed Hussein, written on a standard "family message" form provided to prisoners of war by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC).

"In the name of God the Merciful," writes Saddam, who was captured last December. "To my small family and my big family, peace be with you." And then, after several blacked out lines, he adds: "As for my spirit and my morale, they are high, thanks to the greatness of God."

"And say hello to everyone," Saddam wrote.

Saddam's 20-strong team of lawyers, hired by his wife, Sajida, have also produced an ICRC "capture card," which they said had been filled in by the former despot. Capture cards are filled in by detainees to inform the Red Cross of their detention and their circumstances. On this card, dated January 21, 2004, and also published by Newsweek on Wednesday, Saddam describes his occupation as "President of the Republic of Iraq" and his rank as "Field Marshal."

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