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Iraqi Governing Council Votes to Set Up War Crimes Tribunal - 2003-12-10

The Iraqi Governing Council has voted to set up a war crimes tribunal to try members of Saddam Hussein's regime. Members of the Governing Council say the special tribunal will handle war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide.

There are still few details about how the court will be set up. Council members and their aides say it will be months before it begins hearing cases, and they would not give a precise date when they expect that to happen.

Current Council President Abdul Aziz al-Hakim says the tribunal will cover crimes committed between July of 1968, when the Baath party took power, and May 1 of this year, shortly after Saddam Hussein's regime fell.

Mr. al-Hakim said the council wants to make sure that this is not seen as a tribunal for revenge. He said the rights of the accused will be guaranteed as required by international law.

Council members and their aides say the tribunal will give more rights to the accused than they would normally be entitled to under Iraqi law.

Judge Dara Nooriddin, who heads the council's legal committee, said the tribunal will give the defendants the right to the legal counsel of their choice, and the right to appeal the verdicts and sentences.

Judge Nooriddin said this will be a tribunal based on justice, law and fairness. He says it will not base its judgments on the orders of a tyrant, or issue verdicts that cannot be appealed, as was the case under the former regime.

The court will use a mixture of Iraqi law and international law applying to genocide and crimes against humanity. It will address crimes committed not only against Iraqi citizens, but also against the people of the neighboring countries of Iran and Kuwait during Iraq's wars with those countries.

The governing council says the tribunal will have the right to try people in absentia if they have not been captured. Mr. Nooriddin said the court will try Saddam Hussein for crimes against humanity even if he is never caught. But aides to other council members say the initial focus will be on the former regime officials who are already in the custody of Coalition troops.

The coalition authority has captured about 40 of Saddam's top aides, and is currently holding more than 5,000 other prisoners, although it is not clear how many of them are accused of war crimes. The governing council says prisoners indicted by the tribunal will be transferred to Iraqi custody.

Council members say five experienced Iraqi judges will lead the tribunal, and the lawyers will also be Iraqi. That is in contrast to other war crimes tribunals set up in the last decade, which have been established under U.N. mandates, such as the ones for Rwanda, the former Yugoslavia and Sierra Leone.