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Last Updated: Thursday, 8 May, 2003, 13:52 GMT 14:52 UK
'Special courts' for Iraqi leaders
House of Justice in Baghdad
The issue of post-war justice is controversial

A special Iraqi court may be set up to try members of Saddam Hussein's government for crimes against the Iraqi people, a senior US advisor to the Iraqi justice ministry says.

"There is a broad consensus that crimes against the Iraqi people be handled by Iraqi justice," said judicial advisor Clint Williamson.

The plan emerged as the Iraqi judicial system began working again - with 13 prisoners appearing before a judge in Baghdad on various charges.

The courts that resumed were staffed by judges who worked under Saddam Hussein, when the justice system was abused with arbitrary arrests and detention, torture and harsh punishment.

But these courts will now use a previous legal code, said Mr Williamson.

"Since 1969, a number of amendments were made which are inconsistent with international standards like the Geneva and Hague conventions. Those will be suspended," he said.

Among the amendments will be those made by Saddam Hussein to add punishments from Islamic law.

Most-wanted list

Mr Williamson also stressed the need for a speedy judicial process in any special courts to try the former Iraqi leadership.

The United States has a list of 55 wanted members of the former Iraqi regime, and has detained about one-third of them.

US judicial advisor, Clint Williamson
... We need to set up some sort of special arrangements
Clint Williamson
US judicial advisor

Details have still to be finalised but the court would sit in Baghdad.

"Prosecution involving crimes on a large scale will mobilise the system for years, so we need to set up some sort of special arrangements to deal with it," Mr Williamson added.

But BBC diplomatic correspondent Barnaby Mason says plans for special courts could run into problems amid the controversy surrounding the whole issue of post-war justice in Iraq.

Senior US officials have argued that the Iraqis were the victims of Saddam Hussein and as it was their country that was abused, they should lead the way in putting him and his associates on trial.

'Unlawful combatants'

The case has also been made that a "home-grown" legal process would be educational and would give Iraqis some pride back after the American-led ousting of the regime.

But there are questions about how capable the long-abused Iraqi legal system will be of mounting such trials, our correspondent adds.

And the Bush administration also says that Iraqis accused of war crimes against American troops should be tried by the United States.

That raises the possibility of some of the former regime's irregular forces being labelled "unlawful combatants", taken to Guantanamo Bay and brought before US military tribunals.

Such an exercise could be seen as "victor's justice".

Outside the US, many have called for the top leaders of Saddam Hussein's government to be tried by a neutral international court, on the lines of the UN tribunals set up to try crimes against humanity in the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda.

But Bush administration officials say such tribunals take too long, cost too much and are too far removed from the victims.

They also cannot impose the death penalty, which Washington favours and which it believes the Iraqis would too in some cases.


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