The US-appointed Governing Council is finalizing plans for a domestic war crimes tribunal that would try members of the former Iraqi regime, including Saddam Hussein should he be captured. Iraq’s justice system was thoroughly corrupted under 30 years of rule by the Baath Party. U.S. legal experts and Iraqi expatriates have set out to rebuild the courts almost from scratch, relying initially on the British-based legal system in place during the 1960s.

“All these people who were buried in mass graves, all these people who were tortured, all these people who were forcibly deported, all these people who had properties confiscated were victims,” said Samir Shakir, a council member. “And they were victims in the hundreds of thousands, if not in the millions.”

He added: “Those crimes were perpetrated by somebody. The Governing Council is committed to seeing that justice is done and that it is seen to be done.”

The war crimes tribunal announcement at a news conference here was the first concrete acknowledgment that accused war criminals would be tried in Iraq, the option U.S. officials long have said they preferred over a U.N. court or other international tribunal.

Such a course would defy the recommendation of international legal experts who have warned that an Iraqi court would generate suspicions of “victor’s justice,” or manipulation by the American authorities who retain ultimate power in Iraq.

“I would hope the statute is a draft,” said Richard Dicker, head of the international justice program at Human Rights Watch, an advocacy group based in New York. “Our recommendation has been to bring in help, experts from states other than the occupying powers. You can bring in help without surrendering ownership of the process.”

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