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2003-12-15

Should the Former Iraqi Dictator Be Tried Before An Iraqi or an International Court?

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Democracy Now! hosts a debate with the chief U.S. prosecutor at the Nuremberg trials Benjamin Ferencz, Michael Ratner of the Center for Constitutional Rights as well a two Iraqi Americans living in the U.S. on how Saddam Hussein should be tried. [Includes transcript]

The New York Times is reporting that U.S. and Iraqi officials want Hussein to be tried before a new Iraqi tribunal that was formed last week to try crimes of genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity. Unlike most international tribunes, the Iraqi model allows for the judges to hand down a death sentence.

The Times reports the Bush administration does not want any direct United Nations roles in the trial process.

One Iraqi Governing Council member said Hussein could be tried "in the next few weeks."

But several human rights groups, including Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, warned against rushing ahead with an Iraqi tribunal and called for an international trial.

The government of Iran today called for Hussein to be tried in an international court for crimes committed during the Iran-Iraq war that lasted from 1980 to 1988. An estimated 300,000 Iranians died during the war.

The head of Human Rights Watch Kenneth Roth said "Iraq has no experience with trials lasting more than a few days. International expertise in prosecuting genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity case must be utilized to ensure a fair and effective trial."

Former British Labor Minister Tony Benn predicted that the U.S. would attempt to tightly control any judicial proceeding in order to prevent Saddam from discussing his close ties to Washington.

Benn told Reuters "Saddam might call on Donald Rumsfeld and say I met him in 1983 and he sold me chemical weapons to use against the Kurds." Benn continued "of course the Americans don’t want that. I think they may be very embarrassed."

  • * Benjamin Ferencz*, at the age of 27 he became the chief U.S. prosecutor at the Nuremberg trials, which the Associated Press called "the biggest murder trial in history." Twenty-two defendants were charged with murdering over a million people. He is the author of several books including "An International Criminal Court-A Step Toward World Peace." He is Adjunct Professor of International Law at Pace University and founder of the Pace Peace Center.
  • Michael Ratner, president of the Center for Constitutional Rights
  • Anas Shallal, Iraqi-American living in the Washington D.C. area. He is a "Partner for Peace" with the Seeds of Peace program and one of the founders of the Mesopotamia Cultural Society.
  • Salam Al-Rawi, Iraqi American businessman who owns restaurants in New York.

Transcript

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, let’s begin with this question of whether — what it means to say that the U.S. does not want the United Nations involved in this trial, and what a civil trial would look like. Benjamin Ferencz.

BENJAMIN FERENCZ: I think there must be some mistake there. What’s called for here is a criminal trial, not a civil trial. A civil trial is concerned with damages rather than for punishment. What’s really called for here is a trial which will be a fair trial by who — whichever country or countries get involved to make sure it’s not viewed as vengeance or victor’s vengeance or anything which will be subject to any of the criticism leveled against the Nuremberg trials, that it was the victor trying the vanquished.

The first choice in my opinion would be for an Iraqi trial itself, which could be done quickly providing that there were sufficient international involvement to assure the competence of the prosecution and the defense, and the validity of the charges, et cetera. That would mean calling upon help from the existing international criminal tribunal in the Hague, which unfortunately the United States opposed for reasons which are not persuasive, and asking them to perhaps lend us some of their judges from Canada, and from Great Britain, and from the European community, which have been strongly supportive of that court. It would be possible, then, to move quickly, which would, of course, be desirable.

But the charges here should be crimes against humanity, based primarily upon the crimes committed in 1991. All of that was well documented long ago, when the United States, in fact, was not prepared to get involved and not prepared to put Saddam Hussein on trial, and rather opposed it. Then they called for International proceedings which the United States also opposed.

It’s a complicated issue but, basically, the things to keep in mind is that it should be a fair trial in order to stay the hand of vengeance and assure the rule of law. It should have international involvement because these crimes against humanity affected many nations and it should follow the Nuremberg principles which were upheld by the entire world community.

AMY GOODMAN: Michael Ratner, Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch are warning against a trial, a rushed trial right now saying that Iraq doesn’t have experience with extended trials, talking about the seriousness of criminal tribunal right now. What is your response?

MICHAEL RATNER: My first response to this whole thing is that this is like a feeding frenzy of throwing a piece of meat into water and piranhas are going after it. My first issue would be why isn’t the United States also going to be tried?

If you’re going to have any kind of criminal trial here, if you want any sense of legitimacy or fairness, you cannot go after Saddam Hussein. After all, the U.S., as is well known, has a war of aggression that they just fought against Iraq, a violation of any international law.

That’s what people were tried for in Nuremberg. It seems to me that you want to have a trial that is not Saddam Hussein at the end of it, but also other perpetrators. That’s true, of course, during — of all of the crimes that were going on from the ba’ath period from 1968 forward. The U.S. is claimed to have supplied chemical weapons to him for Halabja, et cetera, et cetera. That’s the first thing to me. You cannot just have a trial with one guy.

Secondly, you cannot have a rushed trial and you cannot right now have one with Iraqi Governing Council involved at all.

Iraqi Governing Council is essentially a U.S. puppet council right now. It will be seen in terms of what it is, which is a U.S. trial essentially. And if you heard those guys talking from the Governing Council, they asked them a question today about well, would be execute?

They said, the U.S. doesn’t want him executed if we try him, but we get sovereignty on July 1, and we will execute him immediately on that day. You are talking about a revenge trial by the Iraqis. The fact that he was interviewed yesterday by the very guys who are going to appoint judges is remarkable to me.

AMY GOODMAN: You’re talking about Achmed Chalabi, among others.

MICHAEL RATNER: These are from the governing council. These are people who have lost relatives and are going to be appointing judges. That doesn’t sound like a fair trial at all.

What you want her is, I think you want, an international tribunal that not only looks at the crimes of Saddam Hussein but the crimes of the United States and other companies and corporations as well that participated in this thing over the years.

AMY GOODMAN: Benjamin Ferencz, would you agree with Michael Ratner?

BENJAMIN FERENCZ: I don’t think we should be talking about a trial of the United States for many reasons. If you want to kill any idea of a trial, that, of course, would succeed in killing it, because the United States opposes the United States being brought before the international criminal tribunal in the Hague for any charges whatsoever. All U.S. nationals are supposed to be exempt from that. It’s quite in defiance of the rule of law.

I agree with Michael Ratner that we should have a fair trial. It should be open, and it shouldn’t be done by any puppet government, which he feels the Governing Council would be, and I — I might be inclined to agree with that, but I don’t think that the trials should be focusing on other nations. I think that the — to simplify it if you want speed, rather than have be a Milosevic trial which has been already running for a very long time, if you want speed, you ought to simplify it, that is, take Saddam Hussein and his Governing Council and his main cohorts, put them on trial for the clearly defined crimes against humanity, which were committed by him and by his people in authority in 1991. Let’s make life simple.

Then you can sentence them easily on the available evidence which was presented to the United Nations partly about by the United States in 1991, and have done with it, whether he be sentenced to death, that should be left to the tribunal itself.

AMY GOODMAN: Let me bring Anas Shallal into this, founder of the Mesopotamia Cultural Society. Your response.

ANAS SHALLAL: This whole thing is not really about Saddam Hussein. It’s about the Iraqi people and the fact that we want to do a quick trial isn’t going to help in the healing process of the Iraqi people.

Every single Iraqi living inside of Iraq and outside of Iraq has been affected by Saddam Hussein. For many of us that have lived outside of Iraq for many many years, we want to know the truth.

The only way we’re going to find the truth is to put him on some sort of a trial that’s going to be internationalized. It’s going to bring in credible people into the process, in order for us to believe what we’re hearing.

But the idea of feeding a trial and pushing it through and convicting Saddam Hussein, there’s nobody that has any doubts that Saddam Hussein will be convicted.

That’s not the issue. The issue is what is going to come out in the trial and by implication. The United States and other western countries are going to be implicated in this process because we all know all too well that Saddam Hussein did not get to where is he without the help of the west, and the western countries, and corporations, et cetera, et cetera.

The fact that, when he was caught— somebody mentioned there was a report that he was acting sarcastic. Well, yes, he was sarcastic, because he is thinking, look, I have done all of this for you for so many years, look how you’re treating me now.

AMY GOODMAN: Michael Ratner.

MICHAEL RATNER: Well, my reaction is, you know, to that statement is right. I mean, at any trial that’s fair here is going to put the United States on trial as well as Saddam Hussein. And you have to have a situation like that, otherwise what you are talking about, is a whitewash of the United States or trying the puppet and not the puppeteer. I think that’s serious. Obviously, Saddam Hussein should be tried, but so should the United States.

AMY GOODMAN: Tony Ben, the former British Laborer Minister, predicted the United States would tightly control any judicial proceeding to prevent Saddam Hussein from discussing his close ties to Washington.

Let me ask you, Salam Al-Rawi, your family members, many killed by Saddam Hussein, do you agree with Benjamin Ferencz just to deal with this, to put Saddam Hussein on trial that should be the singular focus, and who should do it, or do you think it should be broadened out?

SALAM AL-RAWI: No, no. I agree with him, but to me personally, I — and I share my views with a lot of Iraqis I have met. Trying Saddam and giving him the death sentence and executing him is going to — it’s a process of healing for a lot of Iraqis, probably, emotionally.

But there is a lot to be — I mean, Saddam has been robbing the country for 35 years of its resources. And we want to know what happened to the wealth of Iraq ever since he and his bunch of thugs and the Ba’ath party took over. And I strongly believe that there’s enough monies that were placed abroad that could be traced and brought back to rebuild Iraq. You know, we hear news that circulates on the streets of Baghdad of such persons, money laundering, money for Saddam.

There are a lot of names well-known names, among them Chalabi. Chalabi was supposedly — I don’t know how much truth is to it — was dealing with Saddam. You know, he used to own a bank in Amman, and that’s how money was to flow out of Iraq.

AMY GOODMAN: In fact he was convicted for fraud, in absencia.

SALAM AL-RAWI: So, if you really want to look at it, Saddam is not — it’s not — he was helped with the circumstances. What concerns me now is to make sure that circumstances that brought him to power do not — cannot exist anymore. Saddam managed with robbing Iraq of its resources, to destroy Iraqi society, destroy the infrastructure in Iraq. Rebuilding the Iraqi society is going to take a long, long time. Someone was talking about Saddam might have cloned himself or something. You do not need to clone Saddam. There are a lot of clones of Saddam. There are about 3 million registered Ba’athist party members. If I — modestly speaking, if you could take 100,000 people in Iraq, and there would be a very good candidates to replace Saddam. So, this is the situation that we have to deal with.

AMY GOODMAN: Let me ask about the other people. Thousands of people, it is believed, were being detained in Iraq right now. What happens to them, Michael Ratner?

MICHAEL RATNER: Well, I think that’s a good question. Right now, the U.S. is detaining thousands of people. They’re even soldiers who are not being treated as prisoners of war, as part of the whole new way of dealing with people, which is to disappear them into prison and interrogation camps. And the question is what happens to them. Do we have trials for them? You can’t have trials until you get legitimacy there, until you get a government that’s really elected by the people of Iraq and not that’s appointed by the United States. And then you can start trials like they do in various countries, but they have to be legitimate trials.

AMY GOODMAN: On that note, I want to thank you all for being with us. It’s a conversation that we must continue to have, but we are out of time. Salam Al-Rawi, thank you for being here, an Iraqi-American in New York. Anas Shallal, one of the founders of the Mesopotamia Cultural Society in Washington, D.C., Michael Ratner, of the Center for Constitutional Rights. And, Benjamin Ferencz who was the U.S. prosecutor for the Nuremberg war crimes tribunals after World War II.

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