What are the prospects of Saddam Hussein receiving a fair trial before an Iraqi court? What do experts in the legal arena believe will become of the trial of Saddam and its consequences for Iraq and the re-establishment of the rule of law?

It was by a striking coincidence that the ‘Ace of Spades’ in the coalition’s pack of cards was hauled out of his hole and into captivity only a couple of days after the Iraqi Governing Council unveiled a statute establishing a court to try the despot. But according to human rights campaigners and international lawyers, the powers that be in Baghdad did not get off to a great start.

Of course, the stakes are enormous for the Iraqi Special Tribunal for Crimes against Humanity (IST), as the court is known. In the words of the pressure group Human Rights Watch (HRW), the fairness of the tribunal will determine whether his prosecution “advances the rule of law in Iraq or perpetuates a system of arbitrary revenge”.

So what does HRW make of the plans for the tribunal? According to the group, the tribunal, as proposed, reflects “less a determination to see justice done”, and more “a fear of bucking Washington’s ideological jihad” against the international justice movement.

“Back in early April, even before Saddam fled from Baghdad, the US government announced that its objective was to create an Iraq-led, US-supported tribunal, and this is, I believe, what we have here,” comments Richard Dicker, HRW’s international justice director. “The outcome was pre-cooked and came after a very secretive and closed process.”

Dicker, like many other human rights campaigners, is calling for a mixed domestic-international court with personnel selected by the UN “rather than Washington’s surrogates”, and “drawing on a global pool of talent”, as opposed to relying on local lawyers.

However, the arguments of the ‘internationalists’ are weighed against those of the ‘unilateralists’, who back an Iraqi court. They look to the trial of that other infamous dictator Slobodan Milosevic in The Hague and want to prevent Saddam’s trial becoming a political show trial.

Michael Scharf, a former US State Department official who has written extensively about the UN’s International Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia, recently argued that the judges should keep tight reins on the Saddam prosecution, not allowing him to represent himself, nor permit proceedings to be televised “gavel to gavel”. “Polls show that, as the trial unfolds, more and more Serbs are convinced that Milosevic is innocent and the trial is an illegitimate political ‘victor’s justice’ court,” Scharf recently stated.

“Saddam could potentially do the same thing if he’s allowed to represent himself and the trial is televised day after day. It will be the Iraqi version of The Jerry Springer Show.”

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