Lawyers prepare for Saddam trial

In Iraq, seven specially-chosen judges and five prosecutors are being trained for the most important judicial duty of their careers - the trial of Saddam Hussein.

But like the job of pacifying the country in the wake of the dictator's downfall, it is likely to be a long and turbulent assignment.

Unlike the UN-established courts for Yugoslavia and Rwanda, Iraq's tribunal will be home-grown.

But one of the most intriguing issues is the extent of non-Iraqi influence on the war crimes process.

Last month, a team of legal experts from the US flew in and lawyers and investigators from Britain, Spain and Australia are likely to follow.

Forensic archaeologists from Britain and elsewhere have been helping to excavate bodies for many months.

A Jordanian lawyer claiming to head Saddam's defence team says the role of the US in establishing the war crimes tribunal breaches international law.

But any action to test that will be mired in years of legal complexity - by which time, the Iraqi trials will already be well underway.

Tasks ahead

The first task for the legal teams will be to sift through many thousands of captured documents detailing crimes committed by Saddam's regime since the 1980s.

In this, they will be helped by the work of an organisation which is headquartered in London but is US-funded.

Indict has spent seven years taking evidence from witnesses and preparing dossiers which international lawyers feel merited the indictment of several leading regime members.

Indeed, Britain's attorney general asked police headquarters Scotland Yard to assess whether a case could be built against former Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister Tariq Aziz.

Truth and reconciliation

The political realities of post-Saddam Iraq will inevitably affect the war crimes process.

The US is anxious to limit the number of prosecutions so as to avoid further inflaming the Sunni Muslim community.

To compensate, it seems likely that some form of Truth and Reconciliation process will be established so that victims of the regime feel their suffering has been recognised.

But the key consideration is how to establish the trail of guilt which will convict Saddam of the most heinous crime in international law - genocide.

Prosecutors will take note of the difficulties experienced in the trial of former Yugoslav leader Slobodan Milosevic.

They will hope that they can strengthen the case against Saddam by first trying high-ranking officials of his Baath Party.

They will also want to prevent him using his prosecution as a vehicle for implicating Western governments in some of his actions.

That may be very hard to achieve.

[Source: By Jon Silverman, Legal affairs analyst, BBC News, 23Apr04]

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War in Iraq
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