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Saddam's trial will be closely watched

Shyam Bhatia in London | December 16, 2003 02:50 IST
Last Updated: December 16, 2003 02:58 IST

Now that he has been captured, experts say all attention will now focus on how deposed Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein is tried for his alleged crimes.

"We must be careful to see that justice is done and, as people have pointed out, the more Saddam is treated with dignity, the more it will underline the fact that he did not treat his own people and enemies that way," says Dr Robert McGeehan of the Institute of US Studies at London University.

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In a radio interview on Monday morning, McGeehan said, "I hope he will be handed over to the Iraqis with proper legal advice. There are some who doubt that the Iraqis will be able to put in place the kind of tribunal that will give a completely free trial. But with international legal advice, it is possible."

Dr Hussein Shahristani, the celebrated Iraqi nuclear scientist who spent 10 years in Saddam's jails before he managed to escape, agrees but says in the absence of a sovereign Iraqi government, the US will be the ultimate arbiter of how and when Saddam's trial proceeds.

"I would have liked to see a proper Iraqi court set up by a legal authority of the country, rather than by a council appointed by coalition forces because this is really something for the Iraqis to deal with.

"The way things are now, the Americans have decided they are not going to hold elections until March 2005. They are just going to appoint another council. The first one, they called transitional (council) and this time, they are going to call it a sovereign council. Either way, it will still be an appointed council," he told rediff.com.

Experts are divided over what information Hussein would be able to offer about the weapons of mass destruction allegedly developed by his scientists.

Iraq's nuclear weapons programme was halted in 1993 after United Nations inspectors zeroed in on relevant sites and destroyed most of them, including an advanced nuclear warhead design centre at Al Atheer, south of Baghdad.

But US and British intelligence, armed with testimonies of defectors, indicated that Baghdad was hell bent on developing both chemical and biological weapons, including such deadly concoctions as the VX nerve agent.

Eliminating these remaining weapons of mass destruction has been repeatedly cited as the political and legal justification for the invasion of Iraq, which resulted in the toppling of Hussein and ending of the Baath Party's stranglehold over power in the oil rich Arab state.

"The only person who can give information about the weapons with any authority is Saddam himself and he seems to have been co-operating with his captors," says Shahristani.

Now on a visit to London, Shahristani told rediff.com, "My feeling is that he may have some small quantities hidden somewhere. He would keep them close to him to be used as a last resort. I really don't know what he might have available, but it would be something chemical or biological, which means either VX or anthrax, or something of that nature."

Another expert, Dr Gary Samore of the London-based International Institute for International Studies, is skeptical about the information Hussein would have. "Whatever information he would have, and that's questionable since he's been on the run for eight months, it could very well be out of date.

"I don't see why he has any incentive to change his story at this point and acknowledge that he was violating UN Security Council resolutions all these years," he said.

Samore is doubtful that Saddam's capture might encourage Iraqi weapons experts and scientists to step forward with information that they may have been holding back. "…because the resistance is likely to continue for some time. Fear of retaliation is likely to continue and it will be months before we see whether or not Saddam's capture has taken the steam out of the resistance."

"If there are any weapons of mass destruction and if those scientists (who are aware of them) feel free in the long term to come forward, then it could make a difference," he added.

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