Fri, Nov 03, 2006 - Page 7 News List

Questions arise on who should judge Saddam

FAIR'S THE WORD One year into the trial of the Iraqi dictator, critics say that the US is much too involved in the process for it to be impartial

AFP , BAGHDAD

Before Saddam Hussein's trial for crimes against humanity even began, his case was beset by a spirited debate over who should try him and whether those who did would be genuinely impartial.

More than a year later, as the former Iraqi president and seven co-defendants stand to hear the verdict against them, the question is still being asked.

The initial debate focused on whether the trial should be held in Iraq or abroad.

Those arguing against a home-grown process -- particularly the defense team and human rights organizations -- warned that the case could degenerate into a political vendetta.

They also raised questions about the security of the proceedings, a concern borne out by the murder of several defense lawyers and the heavy influence on the case of a clearly biased party, the US.

What they proposed was that the case be taken before an international tribunal, such as the International Criminal Court (ICC). An alternative would have been to set up a Truth and Reconciliation Commission, as was done in South Africa following the end of the apartheid era.

Those views did not prevail, however world powers have since endorsed proposals that those eventually indicted for the assassination last year of former Lebanese prime minister Rafiq Hariri be tried abroad.

It had been decided that Saddam was to be liable for trial on any crimes committed between July 17, 1968 -- when his Baath party took power in a coup -- and May 1, 2003 when the US-led campaign to topple him was declared a success.

The legal argument was that the ICC could not have jurisdiction over events that occurred before it was created in July 2002.

The die was cast when the US-run Coalition Provisional Authority created what was known as the High Tribunal in December 2003, the same month Saddam was captured by US forces.

When the trial got underway in October last year, then Iraqi prime minister Ibrahim Jaafari took pains to defend the court's impartiality.

"What is important for us is to show to the world that Iraqi justice is independent, just and transparent," he said.

But international human rights groups are sceptical.

As the trial opened, the New York-based Human Rights Watch issued a statement in which it said "we have grave concerns that the court will not ensure fair trials."

Among other things, it cited a lack of equal rights for the defense and the prosecution and no requirement to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.

HRW's Richard Dicker said at the time that "if justice, rather than vengeance, is to be delivered" the court "must establish its credibility ... by demonstrating its commitment to principles of impartiality ... and fairness."

Critics have said that Saddam is being held in a US jail, that the trial is being held in Baghdad's Green Zone, which is controlled by the US military, and that US legal experts have had an omnipresent role in preparing the case against him.

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