Skip to main content

For Camron al-Bukhari, it's a matter of honour for Iraqis that they, not a bunch of foreigners, are the ones to put Saddam Hussein on trial for crimes committed here during his 24-year rule.

Iraqis, the Baghdad hotelier said, are capable of giving their former dictator a fair trial. The country has good lawyers and good judges, he adds, many of whom are returning now that Mr. Hussein is no longer in power.

Only after giving a passionate defence of the country's judicial system does Mr. Bukhari start laughing. "But he is guilty, of course," he says.

Iraqis, the United States administration, and the international community were all wrestling yesterday with the same tricky question. How far do Mr. Hussein's captors need to go in the name of ensuring a fair trial, when almost everyone presumes him guilty anyway? In the eyes of most ordinary Iraqis, any kind of trial will suffice, so long as Mr. Hussein is executed at the end of it.

"Of course he should get a fair trial," said Salaam Mahmoud, a retired police captain. "But at the end he must hang."

Such internal pressures are the reason some international human-rights groups express concern that Mr. Hussein cannot possibly get a fair trial inside Iraq. In addition, United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan and Britain, the U.S.'s closest ally in the war to oust Mr. Hussein, both indicated yesterday they could not support a trial that ended with the execution of the former Iraqi leader.

A top Vatican cardinal and one of Mr. Hussein's daughters both publicly condemned his treatment so far. Cardinal Renato Martino said he felt compassion for the former dictator after seeing him treated "like a beast" by the U.S. troops who captured him, then filmed him receiving a medical examination.

Raghdad Saddam Hussein said her father looked drugged in the television pictures she saw of him. She joined the calls for an international trial and said she remained proud of her father. "A lion remains a lion even in captivity," she told al-Arabiya, an Arab-language satellite news channel.

Dara Nor al Din, a member of the country's U.S.-created Governing Council, lashed out yesterday at critics who he said have prejudged the Iraqi justice system without seeing it in action.

Mr. Nor al Din, a former judge who was imprisoned under Mr. Hussein's rule, said the country's recently created war-crimes tribunal, with some outside help, would be able to give the ousted dictator a trial that will meet international standards.

He said it would be up to the transitional government to decide whether or not the tribunal, which will be largely based on Iraqi law, will have the option of the death penalty.

"I am astounded that anyone could judge this court as compromised before the trials begin and the court's procedures are seen," he said, adding that a trial is likely months away. "These crimes were committed in Iraq; it [the court]concerns Iraq and the Iraqi people. The court and the judges must be Iraqi."

New York-based Human Rights Watch has condemned Iraq's newly established war-crimes tribunal as "flawed," noting it would be the first of its kind not conducted under international auspices.

Among the crimes for which Mr. Hussein could be called to account are a campaign against Iraqi Kurds that left as many as 100,000 people dead, and a string of mass graves that have been uncovered around the country, which some estimate may hold up to 300,000 bodies. Iran and Kuwait would also like to see him tried in connections with the wars he started against those two countries.

Follow related authors and topics

Authors and topics you follow will be added to your personal news feed in Following.

Interact with The Globe