The Pitfalls of trying Hussein.

Hussein on trial could make the US, Britain, France, Germany and Russia regret their past associations with his regime

TV reports that the future trial of Saddam Hussein will likely be fraught with pitfalls. It could also prove to be a major embarrassment to the United States, Britain, France, Germany and Russia. The former Iraqi leader could expose secrets about the period when he was strongly supported by all of these countries.

The San Francisco Chronicle notes that the day-to-day proceeding of such a trial would "galvanize the world." The Chicago Tribune reports that international law experts say if the trial is seen as too influenced by the US, it could lack credibility in the Arab and Muslim worlds and could turn Hussein into a martyr, as well as undermine the war on terrorism.

Paul Reynolds, writing for the BBC, speculates that any trial of Hussein could "remind the world that he once had his supporters outside Iraq - in the former Soviet Union, in the Gulf states and in the West." French President Jacques Chirac, for one, might find himself being reminded of past embraces.

In 1987, a French paper published a letter written to Saddam Hussein by Jacques Chirac a few months previously. It began: " My dear friend." It refers obliquely to "the negotiation which you know about" and to the "co-operation launched more than 12 years ago under our personal joint initiative, in this capital district for the sovereignty, independence and security of your country."

Mr Chirac denied that the "negotiation" meant a discussion about repairing Iraq's nuclear reactors. As for the US, official documents recently obtained and published by The National

Security Archive, show that the Reagan administration had extensive knowledge by early 1983 of Iraq's "almost daily" use of chemical weapons against Iran, yet chose to do little in response. In fact, current Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld (who was then a Reagan presidential envoy) met with Hussein in December, 1983 where he conveyed the US's "close support" of Iraq. He did not mention the use of chemical weapons during this meeting. (The US finally condemned the use of these weapons several months later. But at the same time, Washington said it was still interested in a "closer dialogue" with Iraq.)

Actual rather than rhetorical opposition to such use was evidently not perceived to serve US interests; instead, the Reagan administration did not deviate from its determination that Iraq was to serve as the instrument to prevent an Iranian victory. Chemical warfare was viewed as a potentially embarrassing public relations problem that complicated efforts to provide assistance. The Iraqi government's repressive internal policies, though well known to the US government at the time, did not figure at all in the presidential directives that established US policy toward the Iran-Iraq war. The US was concerned with its ability to project military force in the Middle East, and to keep the oil flowing. Sify News of India notes that Mr. Rumsfeld

"shrugged off" the news reports of his meetings with the Iraqi dictator in the 80s. Not everyone, however, accepted his quick dismissal. "Saddam Hussein had chemical weapons in the 1980s, and it didn't make any difference to US policy," Tom Blanton, director of the National Security Archive, was quoted as saying in The New York Times. "Shaking hands with dictators today can turn them into Saddam Husseins tomorrow," he said.

Another case that Hussein might be able to shed some light on is the murder of Iraqi opposition leader Taleb al Suhail al Tamimi. In an interview published last weekend in the London-based Asharq Al Awsat, newspaper his daughter, Nora al Tamimi, alleged that the US tipped off Saddam Hussein in 1993 to the coup that her father was about to launch.

"Zero hour was set for a certain June day in 1993 to stage the coup when Hussein would have been sponsoring an official event in Baghdad," Nora told Asharq Al Awsat in an interview conducted at the family house in Beirut. "But the Americans, who did not want the coup to succeed possibly because they were certain my father would not go along with their polices, tipped off Hussein about the impending putsch by my father and gave the names of his top aides," Nora said. "All of them died in Hussein's torture chambers." Sheik Taleb Al Tamimi was assassinated in 1994 in his apartment in Beirut in a murder the Lebanese government blamed on four guards from the Iraqi embassy.

The possibility of Hussein naming names may be one factor that recently led Iyad Alawi, a member of the Iraq Governing Council, to speculate that the Hussein trial will not be held in public. It may also be why the US was so quick to announce after his capture that Hussein would be tried in Iraq. But other experts say that trying Hussein in private will be almost impossible to do and would set off a huge outcry.

Harun ur Rashid, former Bangladesh ambassador to the UN in Geneva, writes in the The Daily Star of Bangladesh that there are three options for creating a tribunal that can try SaddamHussein. First, a national tribunal may be created inside Iraq. The death penalty could become a problem under this scenario. Currently it has been suspended by coalition powers in Iraq. President Bush has said he wants to see Hussin executed. But allies England, Spain and Italy do not support the ultimate sanction for the deposed dictator.

Second, Mr. Rashid writes, there is an international context to Hussein's crimes because of his actions against Iran, Israel, and Kuwait. In the light of this situation, an international tribunal could be held, like the one underway for the leaders of former Yugoslavia. But the most likely option is number three

... a mixed criminal tribunal consisting of non-Iraqi and Iraqi judges may be constituted, similar to the tribunal recently established by the UN in Sierra Leone. Such tribunal is also proposed for Cambodia. The law applicable will be both Iraqi criminal law and international law. It appears that according to many legal experts, a mixed tribunal, based in Iraq, could be the appropriate forum to try the Iraqi leader. The Associated Press reports that Hussein has several options for his defense, including adopting the tactics of deposed Serb President Slobodan Milosevic, who is currently on trial at The Hague. Carla del Ponte, the woman prosecuting Mr. Milosevic, said last week that she thought Hussein should be tried outside Iraq.

Former US Attorney General Ramsey Clark said last week that he would be willing to provide legal counsel to the ousted Iraqi leader if he requested assistance. Mr. Clark was attorney general under President Johnson and is a staunch anti-war advocate who has met with Saddam on several occasions in the past decade.

Finally, Robert Fisk reports in the Independent that some people in Iraq may not be waiting for trials to find justice or revenge. In the mostly Shiite city of Najaf, 42 ex-members of the Baath have been "murdered" and not a single arrest has been made. In Basra, almost 50 Baathists have been found with their hands bound behind their backs and a single bullet hole in the neck. Fisk says coalition troops are doing almost nothing to find the murderers or even stop the killings.

[Source: Christian Science Monitor, Boston, USA, 31Dec03]

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