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BAGHDAD, Iraq (AP) -- Iraq's interim government voted Tuesday to establish a war crimes tribunal to prosecute top members of Saddam Hussein's regime, two people who attended the meeting said.
The tribunal will be formally established on Wednesday, when the U.S. administrator for Iraq, L. Paul Bremer, temporarily cedes legislative authority to the Iraqi Governing Council so that it can create the court.
One council member, Younadem Kana, told The Associated Press that the court's proceedings would be open to the Iraqi public -- and possibly broadcast on television. The vote to approve the tribunal was confirmed by a second person at the meeting who refused to be identified.
Kana said the first suspects brought to trial for crimes against humanity would be from among the former regime members on the U.S. military's list of 55 most-wanted Iraqis.
That group would include several former top officials in coalition custody, such as former foreign minister Tariq Aziz; former vice president Taha Yassin Ramadan; and Ali Hassan al-Majid, known as "Chemical Ali" for his role in chemical attacks on Kurds in the 1980s.
In the unlikely event that Saddam is captured alive, he presumably would be tried by the special tribunal as well.
The U.S.-led occupation force has pledged to cooperate with the tribunal and hand over detainees for trial, Kana said.
In all, hundreds of Saddam aides could face judges on charges of genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity, relating to mass killings of Iraqi Kurds and Shiite Muslims as well as Kuwaitis and Iranians, Kana said. Saddam invaded Kuwait in 1990 and fought a protracted war with Iran in the 1980s.
Coalition spokesman Charles Heatly said Bremer would delegate the authority to establish the court to the council, which he handed picked in July.
The law calls for Iraqi judges to hear cases presented by Iraqi lawyers, with international experts serving as advisers.
That would be starkly different from U.N.-sponsored tribunals set up to handle war criminals in the former Yugoslavia and in Rwanda. In those cases, international judges and lawyers have argued and decided cases.
It remained unclear whether the law included the death penalty, although Kana said most council members agreed it should -- "like in Texas." The state of Texas, from which President Bush hails and where he served as governor, uses the death penalty.
Human rights groups -- as well as some coalition members including Britain -- have been wary of supporting a tribunal that uses the death penalty.
Also, some human rights groups say Iraq's U.S. occupiers had too much say in creating the tribunal, and that Iraqi judges and prosecutors may not have enough experience to engage in such complex cases.
American legal advisers coached the Governing Council lawyers in drafting the tribunal law, which is similar to proposals made in Washington in April.
Kana said the decision to ratify the law was the council's alone.
Before the council's decision, Entifadh Qanbar, spokesman for Governing Council member Ahmad Chalabi, said the details of the court remained to be worked out.
He said he envisioned 10 courthouses, each with five judges and five prosecutors, along with a nine-judge appeals court. Qanbar said public defenders would be made available to suspects who couldn't afford attorneys.
The law "shows the new face of a democratic Iraq in which all rights of all Iraqis are respected and protected," Qanbar said.
(Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)