"U.S. plans own war-crimes trials"

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Posted by Sadie from ? ( on Tuesday, April 08, 2003 at 5:31PM :

U.S. plans own war-crimes trials
April 8, 2003

From Tuesday's Globe and Mail

Washington intends to bypass the United Nations and try Iraqi leaders for alleged war crimes under U.S. law, State Department and Pentagon officials said yesterday, and Iraqi President Saddam Hussein and his two sons could be among those prosecuted if they are taken alive.

War-crimes trials could be handled by special U.S. military commissions, military courts, martial or civilian federal criminal courts, said W. Hays Parks, a senior Pentagon legal adviser.

Punishment could include the death penalty, said Pierre-Richard Prosper, the U.S. ambassador for war crimes. The duo spoke at a Pentagon press briefing.

The plan to prosecute Iraqi leaders under U.S. law ignores recent precedent and the advice of many international legal scholars.

David Scheffer, who was ambassador for war crimes in the previous U.S. administration, has argued for a special UN tribunal to try Iraqis for war crimes and crimes against humanity.

The UN Security Council created such tribunals to deal with war crimes in the former Yugoslavia and genocide in Rwanda.

Mr. Scheffer, Richard Dicker of Human Rights Watch and other experts say an international tribunal is needed to give the proceedings credibility.

Putting Iraqi leaders before a U.S. court will be seen as "victor's justice [that] could ignite a firestorm in the Arab street," Mr. Scheffer wrote in a recent article for The Washington Post.

Mr. Dicker, director of the international-justice program at Human Rights Watch, said the United States should support a tribunal composed of international jurists, or a "mixed" tribunal composed of local and international legal experts.

Many White House officials appear reluctant to involve UN bodies in the postwar affairs of Iraq after unsuccessful attempts to win Security Council backing for the conflict.

The UN's new permanent International Criminal Court would have jurisdiction for war crimes committed after July 1, except that the United States is not a party to the treaty establishing the court.

U.S. President George W. Bush withdrew support for the treaty shortly after he came to office.

"The current abuses, the crimes particularly against U.S. personnel, we believe we have the sovereign ability and right to prosecute these cases," Mr. Prosper said. "We are of the view that an international tribunal for the current abuses is not necessary."

Mr. Parks alleges Iraq has committed war crimes in violation of the Geneva Conventions.

They include broadcasts on Iraqi TV of videotapes of dead coalition soldiers and of the interrogations of five U.S. prisoners of war, he said.

The tapes are evidence of "fundamental violations of the Geneva Convention obligations" to respect the bodies of the dead and treat captured combatants with dignity.

In addition, Iraqi forces committed acts of "perfidy" by appearing in civilian clothing and carrying white flags of surrender only to draw coalition forces into ambushes, Mr. Parks said.

Britain could also prosecute Iraqis alleged to have violated the Geneva Convention rights of its soldiers, Mr. Prosper said.

Iraqi leaders could be prosecuted for similar rights violations during the 1991 Persian Gulf war, he added.

A new postwar Iraqi judiciary could prosecute leading figures in Saddam Hussein's regime for previous crimes, he said.

Iraqi exile groups are being consulted, the officials said.

U.S. officials drew up a list of about a dozen senior Iraqi officials for possible prosecution even before the current war began. They include Mr. Hussein's two sons, Uday, the commander of fedayeen paramilitary forces, and Qusay, head of the Republican Guard.

-- Sadie
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