An Unused American Tactic: Trying Saddam for War Crimes but Arresting Him, Setting Up a Tribunal Would Be Difficult

Article excerpt

Amid worldwide debate over the effectiveness of bombing as a means to pressure Saddam Hussein, experts say the US and its allies are overlooking a weapon of unlimited power that could help turn the tide against the Iraqi leader.

Justice.

International law specialists and human rights activists say the US could deliver a blow far more damaging to the Iraqi leader than any bomb, short of a direct hit on Saddam's Baghdad residence du jour. These experts advocate convening a special international tribunal to prosecute the Iraqi leader for alleged war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide. Given Saddam's notoriety it is surprising to many analysts that there has been virtually no recent discussion of attempting to punish the Iraqi leader for his alleged major violations of international law during the past decade. The issue arises as the Clinton administration faces growing criticism of its anticipated military assault on Iraq and concerns that widespread American and British bombing might result in heavy Iraqi civilian casualties. International organizations, including the United Nations, claim they have gathered substantial evidence of Iraqi use of chemical weapons in the 1980s and a systematic campaign to eradicate Iraq's Kurdish population. Here in Kuwait, which endured seven months of atrocities following the 1990 Iraqi invasion, the idea of seeing Saddam stand trial is greeted with great enthusiasm. "If they catch Saddam Hussein and they actually get rid of him, I will feel very happy," says Dawood Al-Oraier, a Kuwait refinery worker whose sister died under mysterious circumstances during the Iraqi occupation. Former President George Bush once compared Saddam to Hitler. But his administration never took the next step to set up the 1990s equivalent of a Nuremberg-type tribunal. President Clinton's secretary of state, Madeleine Albright, has expressed interest in moving against Saddam in the international legal arena, but she has yet to take any public action. Some analysts say any push to indict and convict Saddam would face opposition from United Nations Security Council members Russia and China. And even the US might balk at the idea out of fear of setting a precedent that could leave American peacekeeping forces vulnerable to politically-motivated charges of war crimes. International law experts applaud Mr. Clinton for taking a firm stand against the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction during the current crisis with Iraq. But they also say that when a world leader actually uses those weapons, the international community has an obligation under long-established treaties to investigate and punish that criminal conduct. "After World War II we said, 'Never again,' " says Diane Orentlicher, a war crimes expert and law professor at American University in Washington. "There are certain crimes that can't be countenanced, and if we do not condemn them, we have,in effect, condoned them. …