Rumsfeld says US military trial of Saddam unlikely.

Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld on Tuesday called a U.S. military trial of Saddam Hussein unlikely but did not rule it out, and said the United States reserved the right to change his prisoner-of-war legal status.

Iraq's U.S.-appointed Governing Council is setting up a war crimes tribunal to try the former Iraqi president, captured on Dec. 13. The U.S.-led Coalition Provisional Authority said last month it has trained Iraqi judges and lawyers to try Saddam and his entourage on charges that may include genocide and crimes against humanity.

During a Pentagon briefing, Rumsfeld publicly addressed Saddam's status for the first time since the Pentagon announced on Friday that the United States had declared the 66-year-old captive an enemy prisoner of war who was due a host of rights under the Geneva Convention.

Asked whether the Bush administration intended to conduct a U.S. military trial of Saddam or to turn him over to the Iraqi people for trial, Rumsfeld was noncommital, saying that "my impression is that the president (George W. Bush) is leaning toward having the Iraqis play a significant role."

Rumsfeld said a U.S. military trial was "into the lower end of the probability range, I would think."

The Pentagon is in the final stages of preparations for U.S. military trials of some of the foreign terrorism suspects being held at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Legal activists and human rights groups have sharply criticised the Pentagon's rules for the tribunals, saying the rights of defendants were not sufficiently protected.

Critics also have expressed concern over a possible trial of Saddam by Iraqis, saying Iraq under U.S. occupation lacks the people and institutions for a fair trial and calling for proceedings before an international court.

During the briefing, Rumsfeld said Saddam could be prosecuted for crimes against the Iraqi people, actions against the Kuwaiti people and actions against Iranians.

Saddam's forces invaded Kuwait in 1990 and used chemical weapons against Iranian troops during the Iran-Iraq war in the 1980s.

Saddam's POW classification may not be permanent, Rumsfeld suggested. "His status can be reviewed at any time, more than once. And so as additional information or as decisions are made, that may be either changed or amplified." He did not specify what would trigger such a review.

Rumsfeld referred to the toppled Iraqi leader as "an enemy prisoner of war for the period up to May 1," when Bush declared major combat operations over in Iraq. "And he has the potential for being prosecuted for activities after May 1 involving the insurgency and the killing of coalition troops," he added.

The Geneva Convention on treatment of prisoners of war requires, among other things, that the International Committee of the Red Cross have access to POWs, and that POWs receive humane treatment and proper food.

[Source: Reuters, Washington, Us, 14Jan04]

War in Iraq

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