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Preparations Under Way for Saddam Hussein Trial Amid Controversy

Iraq's special tribunal is gearing up to put Saddam Hussein on trial. No charges have been filed, and no trial date has been set. But a debate over whether the former dictator will be treated fairly is already in full swing.

A rare glimpse of the former Iraqi dictator in court: in a recently released video, Saddam Hussein appears far more subdued than he did a year ago.

But as his trial draws closer, some have raised questions about the legitimacy of the court -- Iraq's special tribunal, which was created by the American occupation authority.

Former U.S. attorney general and anti-war activist Ramsey Clark is an advisor to Saddam's legal team. "How can you find legality in a court created by an occupying force, following a war of aggression?," he asks.

Despite the war and the U.S. role in setting up the court, many legal experts believe Saddam can get a fair trial, as long as the tribunal upholds strict standards.

Sean Murphy, an international law professor at The George Washington University in Washington DC, outlines some of the requirements.” Open to the public, presumption of innocence, access to counsel, ability to cross-examine those witnesses that challenge the defendant."

Critics argue that the release of unflattering photos and video of Saddam raises doubts about whether he can be treated fairly in court, and they say the tribunal has already compromised its integrity, by publicly discussing the trial.

Ramsey Clark stated, "Pictures come out about him, stories come out about him, a judge who talks to the press all the time when he shouldn't and talks about charges that haven't even been filed."

Iraqi officials have said they plan to try Saddam on at least 12 charges. He's already been questioned about the 1982 killings of at least 50 Iraqis in a Shi’ite town, widely thought to be revenge murders after a failed attempt to assassinate Saddam.

Though it's not the most serious allegation of mass murder against the former dictator, Professor Murphy thinks it may have been chosen as a test case for both legal and political reasons.

"It's a discrete event, there are witnesses to it, there's an ability to -- in a reasonable amount of time -- put on the evidence, get the testimony. It is a horrendous situation, it also happens to be an area of great interest to those who are Shia Iraqis," said the professor.

The Shias were persecuted by the Saddam regime, and now control Iraq's interim government. Some government officials are pushing for the trial to start quickly.

Abdel Hussein Shandal is the Iraqi Justice Minister, "The investigation stage will be fully completed this year, and then we’ll start the trial stage."

Once the trial gets underway, Professor Murphy says Iraq must allow neighboring countries to monitor the proceedings. "If they don't have others watching and seeing what they're doing, and opining as to whether or not they're doing the right thing, then something will be missing."

Other possible charges against Saddam could involve a 1988 chemical attack that killed thousands in a Kurdish village, and the 1990 invasion of Kuwait.