The Guardian’s Simon Jeffery explains how the process of trying the former Iraqi dictator will work.

What is Saddam going to be charged with?

The exact charges are not yet known, but the case against him is expected to include war crimes relating to the use of chemical weapons against the Kurdish town of Halabja, northern Iraq, in 1988, the massacre of Shia Muslims in the failed revolt that followed the 1991 Gulf war and the 1990 invasion of Kuwait, and the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq war. He is also likely to be charged with human rights abuses.

Who is trying him?

An Iraqi special tribunal. Unlike in the case of Slobadon Milosevic, the former Serbian leader charged with war crimes, and other troublespots such as Sierra Leone and Rwanda, where the UN has set up or helped set up tribunals, Saddam will be tried under a national jurisdiction. The proceedings are expected to rely on a mix of Iraqi criminal law, international law – such as the Geneva conventions – and the experiences of UN war crimes tribunals.

Where is he being held?

Saddam is in the physical custody of the US, but the legal custody of Iraq. This rather unusual state of affairs is due to a combination of the US not wanting to be in violation of international law after the handover (prisoners of war, such as Saddam, cannot be held without charge when a conflict is over) and fears that an Iraqi jail would not be secure enough to hold him. Saddam is now a criminal defendant, whose treatment will be in accordance with Iraqi law and not the Geneva conventions.

What will the prosecutors try to prove, and how will they try to do it?

Saddam will not have killed every person whose death he will be charged with with his own hand, so the prosecutors will attempt to establish that he ordered the killing or was responsible for it. Evidence for a chain of command is hard to come by but, in similar tribunals, cases have been built on witness statements and paper trails. Forensic evidence is required to prove that the massacres took place.

Who will defend Saddam?

Saddam’s wife, Sajidah, has assembled a team of 20 foreign lawyers to represent him, but because only Syrian and Palestinian non-nationals are permitted to work in Iraqi courts, there is some doubt whether they will actually be there. One of those named in connection with the case is the French lawyer Jacques Verges, a man whose previous clients have included the Nazi war criminal Klaus Barbie, Carlos the Jackal and, he claims, Mr Milosevic.

Who else is on trial?

The others include Tariq Aziz, the deputy prime minister; Barzan Ibrahim Hasan al-Tikriti, Sabawi Ibrahim and Watban Ibrahim Hasan al-Tikriti, all Saddam’s half-brothers and advisers; Abid Hamid Mahmud al-Tikriti, his secretary; Aziz Salih Numan, head of the Ba’ath party militia; vice president Taha Yassin Ramadan, and Ali Hassan al-Majid, also known as Chemical Ali.

When will it happen?

The Iraqi government appears determined to have Saddam on trial in January next year. One of those who claims he was tortured in Saddam’s jails, Hamid al-Bayati – now deputy foreign minister – said: “Everyone who lost loved ones to Saddam will want to see this.”

What powers of sentencing will the court have?

Iraq’s government is considering the reintroduction of the death penalty, which was suspended under the US-led occupation.

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