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US to 'hold Saddam for 6 months'
( 2003-12-16 09:23) (Agencies)

Saddam Hussein is likely to remain in U.S. military custody for at least six months and will be treated in accordance with the Geneva Conventions during that time, U.S. officials say.

The Bush administration assumes it will retain custody of Saddam until after it turns over sovereignty to a new Iraqi government next year, a process currently scheduled for June 2004.

Captured former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein undergoes medical examinations in Baghdad Sunday Dec. 14, 2003 in this image from television. Saddam is expected to faces charges, including genocide, dating back to 1968. [AP]
Administration lawyers are urgently reviewing international laws, but officials do not believe the administration can legally turn the former Iraqi president over to the current Iraqi Governing Council (IGC), because it was created by the United States and is not a partner to the Geneva Conventions or other international treaties.

In the meantime, administration lawyers will work with Iraqi officials on a trial process that meets the test U.S. President George W. Bush laid out Monday in his news conference: one in which the Iraqi people are "very much involved" but also one that can "stand international scrutiny."

Administration officials do not now envision any major role for the United Nations in the tribunal process, but do not rule out a role for it or other international institutions, if that is the wish of the new Iraqi interim government.

When the United States says Saddam Hussein will be accorded rights under the Geneva Conventions, government officials mean the disposed Iraqi dictator will be treated well, not be tortured, given access to the International Red Cross and allowed to write to his family.

Bush administration officials are being careful, however, to not specifically say what his legal status is.

Earlier, one member of the IGC said Saddam could be tried within the next few weeks and executed if convicted by an Iraqi war crimes tribunal.

The U.S.-backed coalition suspended the death penalty when it assumed power in Baghdad and is unlikely to rescind that suspension because coalition member Britain is barred by treaty from participating in any legal action that could result in a sentence of death.

But once Iraqis regain sovereignty, they are free to determine what penalties to use and how they will be applied.

Saddam is currently being held at an undisclosed location.

Saddam is expected to face charges of genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity committed from July 14, 1968 -- when Saddam's Baath Party came to power -- until May 1, 2003 -- when Bush declared major hostilities over, Abdel-Aziz al-Hakim, current president of the interim government, told The Associated Press.

Saddam also is expected to face charges of plundering his country's treasury.

Bush: 'Iraqi views matter'

Some members of the IGC already have announced their support for the death penalty, particularly when applied to the case of Saddam.

Mouwafak al-Rabii, a Shiite member, told reporters he believed the ban on the death penalty would be lifted quickly so that Saddam could get "the punishment he deserves."

President Bush said during a Monday news conference that the United States would "work with the Iraqis to develop a way to try him that will stand international scrutiny."

"We need to work with them to develop a system that is fair where he will be put on trial and brought to justice -- a justice, by the way, that he didn't afford any of his fellow citizens," he said.

Bush, a death penalty supporter, said his "own personal views ... are not important. Iraqi views matter," he said.

The IGC said its tribunal would strictly adhere to international law, and international observers would be present during the tribunal's organizational process, as well as a trial.

Council members are adamant that Saddam be tried in Iraq, by Iraqi people, under Iraqi law and all international laws, and in a public trial.

Iran prepares complaint

While nearly every world leader agrees the trial should take place in Iraq, some have called for a tribunal of international judges rather than the Iraqi-only tribunal.

Organizations such as Human Rights Watch called for international participation in a tribunal, arguing that justice against Saddam not be seen as vengeance.

Iran, meanwhile, said it was preparing a criminal complaint against Saddam to present to an international tribunal. An Iranian government spokesman added that countries that sold Saddam weapons must also face justice -- a reference to alleged U.S. military supplies during the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq war.

Britain and Australia -- both members of the U.S.-led coalition that toppled Saddam -- maintained that it was for the Iraqis to determine his fate.

"I want him tried in circumstances where he will receive the justice he denied the other people," Australian Prime Minister John Howard said.

Asked in a television interview if he would support the death penalty, he said: "If it were imposed, absolutely."

British Prime Minister Tony Blair said on Monday he was confident the Iraqi people would be able to mount a fair trial.

"Of course we must make sure that there is a proper and independent and fair process. But I am quite sure that the Iraqis have the capability of doing that," Blair told parliament.

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