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Saturday, December 20, 2003

US - Iraqi Split on Trying Saddam?

Since Sunday, I've been trying to figure out why the US and Iraqi Governing Council might be split over a trial for Saddam Hussein. A story this morning from AP writer Edith M. Lederer may explain it, "U.S. Opposes Provisions for Iraq Tribunal."

Put simply, the new Iraqi war crimes tribunal basically took language directly from the International Criminal Court. The US, of course, opposes the ICC for many reasons. The Pentagon has long worried that American soldiers might be tried as war criminals by international rather than national courts. Politicians might oppose it because they could be tried as war criminals -- even if the US never ratifies the treaty!

Here's what Lederer wrote:
The statute for the Iraqi tribunal has been published and was distributed to the U.N. Security Council on Thursday by U.S. Ambassador John Negroponte, prompting comparison with the 1998 Rome statute that created the International Criminal Court.

"It's very instructive that the Iraqi Governing Council decided to literally cut and paste the definitions of the crimes of genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes for their tribunal from the International Criminal Court statute," Richard Dicker, head of the International Justice Program at Human Rights Watch, said Friday.

The Iraqi court's reliance on the 1998 Rome Statute establishing the International Criminal Court shows the treaty has set a standard for the definition of these crimes, Dicker told The Associated Press.

"It's the ultimate irony that the U.S. government, which is the greatest obstacle to the ICC today, helped oversee the drafting and inclusion of the very crimes from the very court that it treats as anathema into the language of the Iraqi Special Tribunal," Dicker said.

The American Non-Governmental Organization Coalition for the International Criminal Court sent an e-mail to supporters Friday also noting that "almost all of the substantive provisions are word for word from the ICC's Rome Statute."
Before anyone runs too far with this topic, consider the dissimilarities between the ICC and the Iraqi law:
The Iraqi statute differs from the ICC statute in key ways: Its jurisdiction is limited to Iraqi nationals and residents accused of crimes between 1968 and May, whereas the ICC statute provides for cases to come to the court through a state that has ratified the treaty, the U.N. Security Council, or the court's prosecutor.

The Iraqi statute also includes some crimes under Iraqi law as well as the death penalty — a problem for some European countries and the United Nations which oppose capital punishment.
Plus, the NGO Coalition added this: "since 'no American could ever be tried" by the Iraqi court it "does not reflect any softening of the U.S. ICC position,' the group said."

I'm actually not sure about that last NGO statement. The law apparently applies to "residents" through May. Wouldn't that mean US soldiers and occupying civilians through the first months of the war?

This is something worth watching closely.

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