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US Congress Discusses 'Prosecution by Tribunal' of Iraqi War Crime Suspects - 2003-04-08

Key U.S. lawmakers have introduced a resolution condemning Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein and other Iraqi officials for committing war crimes, and are vowing the United States will prosecute those responsible.

As the U.S.-led war to disarm Iraq continues, debate has already begun in the United States over the question of prosecuting Iraqis accused of war crimes.

Members of Congress have introduced a resolution calling for the 'prosecution by tribunal' of any Iraqis involved in violations of armed conflict directed at members of the U.S.-led coalition, the people of Iraq or any other nation.

"I want the Iraqi leaders to understand, this is not just about removing Saddam Hussein from power," said Congressman Curt Weldon, a Pennsylvania Republican, co-sponsor of the resolution. "This is about a regime that has done more to violate human rights than any other regime since Adolph Hitler and Josef Stalin."

Sponsors say the resolution will allow Congress to send a signal to Iraqi leaders that they will be held accountable for war crimes. The sponsors say Iraqi officials have violated the rules of armed conflict by soliciting suicide bombers, hiding munitions in holy sites, and using civilians as human shields.

Senator Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, a senior Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee, offered some thoughts on how a judicial body would be set up to prosecute such war crimes.

"My sense is that the tribunal will be set up in Iraq," he said. "It would be administered jointly by the United States and Great Britain, participated in by other coalition countries. I believe it would have the most therapeutic effect if it is done at the scene in Iraq."

But for another co-sponsor of the resolution, Senator Joe Biden of Delaware, the ranking Democrat on the Foreign Relations Committee, it is important to have broad international support for the tribunal. He said he would like to see participation from nations that opposed the U.S.-led war, including France, Germany and Russia.

"The whole idea of this is not to punish those who have engaged in war crimes, but to internationalize a standard and a moral disapprobation of the world as to what this guy [Saddam Hussein] has done," he explained.

Meanwhile, Bush administration officials say a new Iraqi government should prosecute Saddam Hussein and his aides for war crimes that pre-date the current conflict.