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Preparing Saddam trial is dangerous, frustrating
( 2004-02-02 08:53) (Agencies)

Saddam Hussein's trial may be many months away but the frustrated man coordinating it already faces death threats, even from Iraqis who hated the dictator.

"Oddly enough, I have been threatened by victims' families. They think I am being way too careful about protecting the defendant's rights. They think I should just stand up and kill Saddam Hussein," Salem Chalabi told Reuters in an interview.

"I actually move around in a very convoluted way. I am in the Green Zone now. I am living in a family house."

The heavily fortified Green Zone houses the U.S.-led coalition headquarters in Baghdad.

Preparing the case against Saddam will be a daunting task for Chalabi, a U.S.-educated Iraqi lawyer and nephew of Governing Council member Ahmad Chalabi. He believes a fair trial will be key to delivering democracy.

"We are being pushed to do this quickly for the Iraqi need for vengeance and on the other hand we have to be careful from the perspective of the international community that it doesn't look like a show trial," he said.

He said he hoped to get the first trial going before year's end. He said he did not want to try Saddam first.

Saddam's fate was thrown into confusion recently when the U.S. gave him prisoner of war status, triggering mass protests by Iraqis who complained he would be treated leniently.

Chalabi said the U.S.-led occupation authority had given Iraqi officials guarantees that Saddam, accused of torturing and killing hundreds of thousands of Iraqis, would be tried in a special tribunal in Iraq.


But Chalabi said he was increasingly frustrated by U.S. bureaucracy and decisions to release suspects who could have helped the prosecution's case.

"They cooperate but they create problems in the way they behave. They release some people without consulting us. It makes it much harder for us to turn around and arrest the same people we may want to try for war crimes," he said.

"One of them was definitely someone you would want as a defendant in the war crimes tribunal."

Chalabi, a former member of the exiled Iraqi opposition, said a core group of defendants had been identified, including former Iraqi officials who were on the 55 most-wanted list.

Chalabi said some of them had suggested to third parties that they would be willing to hand over information on Saddam's alleged crimes in return for more lenient sentences.

That would give the tribunal, which is empowered to hand down the death sentence, extra ammunition and save time in a trial that could drag on.

"There are very few crimes, murders, that Saddam Hussein committed himself. I believe he ordered stuff, but I don't know that he actually physically took somebody outside and shot them," Chalabi said.

"The trick with Saddam is finding the documentary evidence, or the testimony of people who can demonstrate the chain of command. We need to develop it in a very careful manner."

To save time, the tribunal will try low-ranking people first to prove that the crimes were committed to make it easier to go after Saddam, Chalabi said.

"We want to start the trial of the first accused before the end of the year," he said.

"We want to tailor the procedures in such a way that the actual trial of Saddam Hussein does not last more than three or four months."

Chalabi hopes the trials of Saddam and his aides will prove to Iraqis that they will have rights in the new Iraq.

In the meantime, it seems he could face many hurdles while preparing to put Saddam in the dock. "In many instances I am getting frustrated with the U.S. ...I don't want to kill myself going out of my way to please the international community because in so doing you may be alienating the Iraqis and the whole tribunal may become irrelevant," he said.

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