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IN THE NEWS - International Debate on Trial of Saddam Hussein - 2003-12-20

Broadcast: December 20, 2003

This is Steve Ember with In the News, in VOA Special English.

An international debate has begun about how former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein should be tried for serious crimes he is accused of carrying out. The former Iraqi leader was captured Saturday in Iraq during a raid on a farm near his hometown of Tikrit. He was hiding underground. Saddam was armed, but he did not resist capture.

American military officials are holding Saddam Hussein in an unknown location in Iraq. The United States Central Intelligence Agency has taken control of questioning the ousted Iraqi leader.

At issue is whether Mister Hussein should be tried before an Iraqi court or an international court. Some legal experts say an Iraqi court would give Iraqis more control over the legal process and help the country deal with its past. But international legal experts and human rights groups question whether Saddam can get a fair trial in the country he ruled with such cruelty.

Last week, the American-appointed Iraqi governing council voted to set up a special Iraqi court. The court would try members of the former Iraqi government for war crimes and human rights violations. But, unlike recent international criminal trials for Rwanda, Sierra Leone and the former Yugoslavia, the United Nations would not take part.

The head of Iraq’s governing council said Saddam Hussein will be tried by the special Iraqi court. The Iraqi governing council met this week to discuss ways of appointing judges to the court. There would be five judges. The governing council is permitted to appoint international judges to the court. But most of the judges are expected to be Iraqis.

The American-led coalition in Iraq has approved the plan. And this week, coalition officials said they have trained judges and lawyers for the court.Some legal experts and human rights groups want Saddam Hussein to be tried in an international court. They say Iraqi judges probably lack the legal skills necessary to try complex cases of human rights violations.

Iran also supports calls for an international court. It said such a court is the right place to examine Iraq’s use of banned chemical weapons during the eight-year war the two countries fought during the nineteen-eighties.

Iraqi governing council members say Saddam should face the death penalty if he is found guilty of any crimes. But American-led coalition officials in Iraq suspended the death penalty after Saddam Hussein was ousted from power. Iraqi officials have said they will decide whether to re-establish the death penalty when a temporary government takes power in July.

U-N Secretary General Kofi Annan said he does not support the death penalty for Saddam Hussein. President Bush said Saddam Hussein should receive the worst possible punishment for his crimes. But he said it is up to the Iraqi people to decide.

In the News, in VOA Special English, was written by Cynthia Kirk. This is Steve Ember.