Call for Iraq Trials

US may seek to try Iraqi leaders for war crimes.

Call for Iraq Trials

US may seek to try Iraqi leaders for war crimes.

Tuesday, 22 February, 2005

America’s war crimes ambassador, Pierre-Richard Prosper, said this week that Washington might press for war crimes charges to be leveled against Saddam Hussein and other Iraqi leaders.

But the venue for such a trial is unclear. “We are of the view that an international tribunal for the current abuses is not necessary,” he said.

This appears to rule out the possibility of a UN ad-hoc tribunal, similar to those set up for Rwanda and former Yugoslavia.

Another option is the International Criminal Court, ICC, which has made itself available should the UN want to send cases its way. This is highly unlikely, as the US opposes the new judicial body.

US army official W Hays Parks, an assistant to the Army Judge Advocate General, said trials could be handled by American military commissions, courts martial, or by civilian courts.

A further option is for Washington to organise an Iraqi domestic trial.

But human rights groups have already signaled opposition to an Iraqi court - calling for an internationally-approved one as the only guarantee of justice.

“After decades of Ba’ath Party rule, the Iraqi judiciary has been deeply compromised,” said Richard Dicker, a senior official at Human Rights Watch. “The Iraqis should certainly be involved in the process, but the country’s justice system just doesn’t have the capacity to handle a series of highly complicated trials.”

Meanwhile, one rights group says it wants US officials to face indictments for possible war crimes – including the killing of journalists shelled at the Palestine Hotel this week.

Three journalists died when a US tank fired a shell at the Reuters office in the hotel on April 8.

America says the tank was responding to sniper fire from the hotel, but BBC correspondent Rageh Omaar said none of the reporters based there were able to corroborate the claim.

Sky TV correspondent David Chater, who watched the tank train its gun straight at him, said, ”I never heard a single shot coming from the area around here, certainly not from the hotel.”

Journalists filming at the time have offered their tapes for evidence.

Now Journalists, a human rights group, has written to US defence secretary Donald Rumsfeld calling for more detail on the position of the sniper.

“We believe these attacks violate the Geneva conventions,” said the letter. “The evidence suggests that the response of US forces was disproportionate and therefore violated humanitarian law.”

It follows earlier controversy after the US said 7 unarmed women were killed aboard a minibus when it ignored warning shots from a Marine roadblock.

The statement was later withdrawn after a Washington Post journalist, on the spot, reported the unit commander as cursing his men for failing to fire such warning shots.

It is unclear whether any war crimes trials against Saddam’s regime would also have jurisdiction over the actions of American and British forces.

Chris Stephen is IWPR project manager in The Hague.

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