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Last Updated: Friday, 2 July, 2004, 04:41 GMT 05:41 UK
Saddam trial head vows justice
Saddam Hussein
Saddam Hussein challenged the legitimacy of the court
The head of the Iraqi Special Tribunal, set up to try Saddam Hussein, has told the BBC that the trial will meet international legal standards.

Speaking on Newsnight, Salam Chalabi said Iraq was "devising procedures" that would comply with other tribunals such as that for the former Yugoslavia.

However, a member of Saddam Hussein's defence team said holding the trial in Iraq was blocking neutrality.

Saddam Hussein was in court on Thursday to hear the charges against him.

Genocide charges

In televised excerpts of the proceedings, released to international broadcasters after the hearing finished, the ousted leader was defiant, declaring himself to still be the president of Iraq.

He defended Iraq's invasion of Kuwait in 1990 and rejected the court's jurisdiction, branding US President George W Bush as the "real criminal".

I am Saddam Hussein, President of Iraq

He arrived in handcuffs and chains at the court near Baghdad airport to hear charges of war crimes and genocide.

Iraq's new national security adviser, Mowaffaq al-Rubaie, has insisted the process will not be a show trial.

"As an Iraqi interim government, we promise our people and the Arab world and the outside world, we promise that Saddam will stand a fair trial," he said in a BBC interview.

His view was echoed by Mr Chalabi who told the BBC that the trial would follow "very strict due process of law standards that would comply with the rules of the ICTY [the International war crimes tribunal for the former Yugoslavia] very closely".

'Bias inevitable'

He rejected international criticism that the proper place for the trial was in an international court.

"The Iraqi people feel this is really part of their issues and they are the primary owners of this process, regardless of what the international community says," he said.

"I feel my role here is to try to merge the two and to try to bring in a fair trial, while at the same time trying to ensure that the Iraqi people feel justified."

Anfal campaign against Kurds, late 1980s
Gassing Kurds in Halabja, 1988
Invasion of Kuwait , 1990
Crushing Kurdish and Shia rebellions after 1991 Gulf War
Killing political activists over 30 years
Massacring members of Kurdish Barzani tribe in 1980s
Killing religious leaders, 1974

But Saddam Hussein's lawyers have already challenged the court's legitimacy.

One member of his 20-strong defence team, Dominique Grisay, told the BBC that holding the trial in Iraq would make it impossible for the former Iraqi president to get a fair trial and that the gravity of the charges made it a matter for an international tribunal.

"The people who are being brought to this tribunal are being charged with crimes against humanity - this is typically something which is linked with international law, not with national law," Mr Grisay said.

"The fact that the judges are nationals of Iraq causes a lot of trouble. We believe that there can be absolutely no neutrality if the judge is a national of the country."

Historic moment

The defence lawyers have complained that they are being denied access to their client and it is still not clear whether non-Arabic lawyers will be allowed to participate in the trial.

Iraqis cannot be victims and at the same time juries
John Upindi, Namibia

The images of Saddam Hussein - cleared for broadcast by the US military - were the first since his capture in December. The former president looked thin, haggard and with a trimmed, grey beard.

"I am Saddam Hussein, President of Iraq," he replied when asked to confirm his identity at the hearing, which took place inside one of his former palaces, now a sprawling US base.

The BBC's Arab affairs analyst, Magdi Abdelhadi, says this is the first time an Arab ruler has appeared before a judge to face charges related to abuse of power and the brutal oppression of his own people.

He says it is an historic moment not only for Iraq but for the entire region.

Ousted Arab rulers were usually either summarily executed or forced to flee the country, he adds.

Also facing charges in the court were 11 other senior members of Saddam Hussein's former regime.

They included former Deputy Prime Minister Tariq Aziz and Ali Hasan al-Majid, known as "Chemical Ali" for his alleged role in poison gas attacks.

The BBC's John Simpson
"He was polite to the judge but took the opportunity to score a number of points"


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