The White House said Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein has committed atrocities and should be held to account. But officials stop just shy of confirming a report that the United States might seek to try him for war crimes.
The Washington Post reports that the Bush administration is building a case against Saddam Hussein and members of his inner circle. The Post said the plan is to charge them with crimes against humanity if the Iraqi government is toppled.
When asked about the report, White House Spokesman Ari Fleischer chose his words carefully. He never uttered the phrase "war crimes trial." But at the same time, he indicated some sort of action is possible to hold Saddam Hussein to account.
"Atrocities have been committed and the Iraqi people and the international community will address this in the appropriate way," Mr. Fleischer said.
He went on to say that these atrocities are serious. And he stressed the world is not inclined to look the other way.
The White House spokesman was then asked what the Bush administration would do if the Iraqi government were to change its ways and comply with U.N. demands to disarm. Could it be prosecuted for past misdeeds? "Well, I can't speculate about every potential outcome of something that has not happened or may not happen in terms of any change in the ruling party in Iraq," he said.
All the same, Mr. Fleischer made clear the United States was at the very least considering pressing some sort of case against Saddam Hussein. He pointed to the trial of former Yugoslav leader Slobodan Milosevic as an example of the kind of action taken by the international community against a deposed leader accused of atrocities. Milosevic was put on trial before an international tribunal in the Hague.