BAGHDAD, Iraq—Controversy over how to prosecute Saddam Hussein intensified Monday as President Bush said the United States would work with Iraq to develop a way to try him, while members of Iraq's Governing Council insisted that the former dictator would be tried in public by an already-created all-Iraqi war crimes tribunal as early as March.
While some council members want to see Saddam put to death, U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan opposed any proceedings that had the death penalty as an option. And Iraq's neighbors clamored for their own proceedings against the captured former dictator.
"He has to be tried by the tribunal we set up a few days ago," said Mowaffak al Rubaie, a British-trained physician who was one of four Governing Council members who met Saddam for about 30 to 40 minutes early Sunday morning.
The trial will be public and televised and Saddam could face the death penalty, Rubaie said.
"They were big crimes he did, from mass graves to killing clerics to gassing the Kurds. There are enough crimes to hang him many thousands of times," said council member Mohsen Abdul Hameed, the secretary general of the Iraqi Islamic Party. "But the court will be fair. We will give him lawyers and it will be public. It will definitely be televised."
Human rights groups have expressed concern that the Iraqis lack the technical ability to prosecute Saddam fairly on their own. Legislation to create the war-crimes tribunal was approved last week by the Governing Council only after a provision was inserted allowing for international advisers, yet it was unclear whether council members intended to bring in international experts.
"We will work with the Iraqis to develop a way to try him and that will stand up to international scrutiny," President Bush said in Washington. "The Iraqis need to be involved. They were the ones who were brutalized. They need to be very much involved in the process."
Although the U.S.-backed coalition authority has suspended the death penalty in Iraq, it could be brought back after sovereignty is restored July 1, prompting Annan to object.
"The U.N. does not support a death penalty. In all the courts we have set up, (U.N. officials) have not included a death penalty," Annan said Monday at the United Nations. "And so as secretary-general, and the U.N. as an organization, I am not going to now turn around and support a death penalty."
A senior State Department official said Monday that it was "clearly for the Iraqis to decide" if the death penalty should be imposed on Saddam.
"He victimized their entire population, so whatever punishment they deem applies, we will be satisfied," said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
The official said the United States also reserved the right to prosecute Saddam for crimes committed against Americans.
Two of Iraq's neighbors demanded Monday that Saddam be tried for war crimes against their countries. Their chances of trying him in an international venue are slim, however, given that the U.N. courts in The Hague, Netherlands, have no jurisdiction.
In Kuwait, the prime minister tasked his nation's top lawyers to "go after" Saddam, said Waleed Abdul-Latif al Nusif, the editor of the daily newspaper al Qabas. Saddam invaded Kuwait in 1990, an act that precipitated the first U.S.-led Persian Gulf War.
What court the Arab country plans to file its case in was unclear, although the charges probably would be criminal rather than civil, Nusif said.
Iran also is pursuing a criminal complaint against Saddam for his 1980-88 war against that country, government spokesman Abdollah Ramazanzadeh said during a weekly briefing in Tehran. Saddam used chemical weapons during that war, which ended in a draw and claimed at least 300,000 Iranian lives.
"We want the crimes of Iraq's dictator to be examined in a competent international court and for him to be put on trial," Ramazanzadeh said. "The Foreign Ministry has taken some measures on this issue and has collected the necessary documents."
But a leading Iranian judge demanded in a letter to Annan that Saddam be tried in Iran. "The public opinion in Iran calls for the trial of Saddam Hussein at a court of justice in the Islamic Republic," Judge Mahmoud Shiraj wrote in the letter, published Monday by the state-run Islamic Republic News Agency.
Israeli television reported Monday night that Tel Aviv-area residents whose homes were destroyed by Iraqi Scud missiles during the first Gulf War want to pursue legal action against Saddam, which the Israeli government is considering doing on their behalf.
In Iraq, judges for the Iraqi War Crimes Tribunal already are being trained, and renovations have begun on a Baghdad building that probably will be the tribunal's headquarters.
Governing Council member Ahmed Shia'a al Barrak, a human rights activist from Babel and a member of the council's legal committee, said Saddam could face the death penalty.
"He deserves the death penalty, but as you know performing the death penalty is stopped by the coalition now," Barrak said. "The court might decide to put Saddam to death but they will not do this unless there is a return to the previous laws, which allow the death penalty. When the sovereignty returns in June, we might return to the old laws before the war, which permit carrying out the death penalty."
The State Department's ambassador for war crimes issues, Pierre-Richard Prosper, will return to Iraq next month to work with the Iraqis on establishing a court to try Saddam, spokesman Richard Boucher said.
(Fan reports for the San Jose Mercury News. Knight Ridder Newspapers correspondent Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson contributed to this report.)
(c) 2003, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.
GRAPHIC (from KRT Graphics, 202-383-6064): 20031215 SADDAM courts