The U.S. Justice Department has sent a team of prosecutors to Iraq to begin preparing for the trial of ousted President Saddam Hussein and other former top Iraqi officials on charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity. But it will take months before the tribunal is set to hear cases.
The first of what will be some 50 Justice Department officials are expected in Iraq in the coming days, charged with helping Iraqis sift through the evidence and develop the case against Saddam Hussein and other former top Iraqi officials.
From Baghdad, Salem Chalabi, the American educated Iraqi lawyer in charge of overseeing the tribunal, tells VOA what these lawyers will be doing.
"They'll be helping us with things like investigations and stuff like that, which we need a lot of assistance on," he said. "The Iraqi investigative judges and prosecutors don't have too much experience in these kind of complex litigation cases and so that's what they'll be assisting us with." Iraqis themselves will be charge of conducting the tribunal, which will be an independent body founded on Iraqi and international law, with jurisdiction over any Iraqi implicated in a war crime during the Saddam Hussein era.
Paul Bremer, the top U.S. administrator in Iraq, spoke about the court on Fox News. "The Iraqis have established this tribunal. They now need to people it [staff it] with investigators and judges and prosecutors and what we'll be doing is helping them figure out how to pull together the evidence," he said.
Toward that goal, a spokesman for the U.S.-led Coalition Provisional Authority says teams of investigators from various countries have been going through a mountain of documents as well as what are estimated to be nearly 300 mass graveyards associated with the massacres of Shiites and Kurds.
When the tribunal will actually begin hearing cases has not yet been determined. Salem Chalabi expects that date is still months away. "I'm talking nine months for the first trial to start," he said.
And, he says, another factor which could have an impact on the court is the security situation in Iraq. "I don't imagine that attacks and stuff like that would affect it substantially unless courtrooms, etc. are targeted," he said. "We don't want to take it out of the country because this is very much an Iraqi process."
Saddam Hussein was captured in December and remains in U-S military custody at an undisclosed location in Iraq. U-S officials tell the New York Times he has revealed little that could be useful in any trial against him.