Iraq's Governing Council ponders who should be war crimes tribunal judges


Fri, Dec 19, 2003 - Page 6

Amid concerns of international human rights groups, Iraq's US-appointed Governing Council met for the first time on Wednesday to look into ways of appointing judges to a new war crimes tribunal that could try former Iraqi president Saddam Hussein.

One council member, Adnan Pachachi, said Iraq's tribunal would welcome "foreign judges if we feel it's necessary."

"We just started today preliminary discussions on methods and procedures to appoint judges" to the tribunal, said Mouwafak al-Rubaie, a Shiite physician and longtime human rights activist.

A committee of highly qualified lawyers could recommend candidates to be judges on the tribunal, which will try former members of Saddam's regime for human rights abuses stretching back decades, al-Rubaie said.

Some Governing Council mem-bers say they want to try Saddam within months. However, he is in US custody and the timeline and format of a possible trial has yet to be established.

Amnesty International and other rights groups have expressed concern about the legitimacy of the Iraqi court, saying it must conform with the norms of international law.

New-York based Human Rights Watch said there is no requirement in the tribunal law that judges, prosecutors or investigators be disqualified if they are found to be partial or involved personally in the crime or were related to any of the victims.

Governing Council members say Saddam should face the death penalty if convicted. The US-led occupation authority suspended the death penalty, and Iraqi officials have said they will decide whether to reinstate it when a transitional government assumes sovereignty as scheduled by July 1.

Al-Rubaie said the council "will do anything for a greater UN role," even though the UN objects to the death penalty.

"We can reconcile this in our new law," he said.

This will be "the trial of all times," al-Rubaie said, adding that the trial will "reveal secrets, expose presidents, kings and intellectuals" in the West and the Middle East.

Al-Rubaie said the court will be a model of the new Iraq, "and not one to be vengeful or authoritarian." He said that while Saddam should face the death penalty if found guilty, the former dictator cannot be tried in every place where he is accused of crimes.

The tribunal will try cases stemming from mass executions of Iraqi Kurds in the 1980s, as well as the suppression of uprisings by Kurds and Shiite Muslims after the 1991 Gulf War.

Council members say the court will also try cases committed against Iran -- with which Iraq fought a bloody 1980 to 1988 war -- and against Kuwait.