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Two years on, Saddam awaits trial

- Virginie Locussol

(Thursday, March 17, 2005)

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"I hope Saddam will be on the stand in early autumn, before the general referendum, so that we can say to our people: 'Saddam is in the box, go ratify the constitution'," Rubaie said in early March.

Two years after US-led troops invaded Iraq to topple Saddam Hussein -- portrayed by Washington as a danger to the entire world -- the former dictator is still being held in a US prison in Baghdad awaiting trial. Iraqi officials say Saddam will have his day in court before the end of the year but several other senior members of his regime are scheduled to appear before the Iraqi Special Tribunal before he does.

Saddam's half-brother, the former head of the intelligence service Barzan Ibrahim Hassan al-Tikriti, and former vice president Taha Yasin Ramadan are expected to be the first to be tried but the court said at the end of February that the pair's trial would not start "for at least 45 days". The special tribunal was set up at the end of 2003 to judge people accused of "genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes and violations of Iraqi law".

"I would be very surprised if I don't see Saddam in the box by the end of the year," said Muaffak al-Rubaie, a national security advisor and member of the Shia United Iraqi Alliance, the winner of Iraq's watershed January 30 election. "I hope Saddam will be on the stand in early autumn, before the general referendum, so that we can say to our people: 'Saddam is in the box, go ratify the constitution'," Rubaie said in early March.

Iraq is to hold a referendum on October 15 on the constitution, to be drafted by the new parliament. Saddam's trial "could even be earlier," Iraq's outgoing Human Rights Minister Bakhtiar Amin said. Whenever it does start, the trial promises to be a spectacular event, with much at stake for the US administration. And there will be little margin for error for the tribunal. But the court has already run into stumbling blocks, in particular security problems. On March 2, investigative judge Barwize Mohammed Marwane and his son Arayan, who worked as a clerk for the tribunal, were gunned down as they stepped out of their Baghdad home.

Other members of the court have also received threats, a western judicial official said. The legitimacy of the tribunal has also been called into question. One Iraqi lawyer claimed in July that the court violates the country's fundamental laws, which govern Iraq until the end of 2005, because one of the clauses bars special tribunals.

The New York-based organisation Human Rights Watch has also expressed concern about the judges' lack of experience and competence on the issues of genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity. As for Saddam Hussein, he has rejected the court's authority. "How can you try me before a court set up by the occupation forces?" he thundered, when judge Raed Jouhi on July 1 informed him of the charges against him.

Jouhi has insisted that the tribunal will be independent. "The Iraqi Special Tribunal is completely independent of the government and any other party and the government has not intervened and will not intervene in its work," he said in December, stressing that the investigations would take as much time as needed.

Amin said, meanwhile, that the Iraqi magistrates were "capable of doing the job". According to the 'Financial Times', they recently rehearsed at a London hotel, holding mock trials. According to Amin, who visited Saddam in detention in July 2004, the ousted leader was spending his time awaiting trial gardening, writing poetry and snacking on American muffins and cookies.

Related Links:- 
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Saddam defiant as he awaits trial

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