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Iraq keen to avoid Milosevic fate in Saddam trial

Written by: Staff

BAGHDAD, Apr 7 (Reuters) Saddam Hussein's trials could last for years as new charges including genocide are laid, but Iraqi authorities are keen for closure after former Yugoslav president Slobodan Milosevic died before he faced a verdict on war crimes.

''One of the lessons of the Milosevic trial is that war crimes need to be streamlined and efficient,'' said Michael Scharf of Case Western University of Law in the United States.

''The old adage 'justice delayed is justice denied' proved to be accurate in the case of Milosevic.'' Saddam is on trial for the deaths of almost 150 men and boys after a failed assassination bid against him in the early 1980s in the town of Dujail.

The ousted leader is also expected to be tried for genocide against Kurds. He is accused of killing hundreds of thousands of Iraqis during his rule and other charges could follow.

The original case has dragged on for more than six months, with only 18 days of hearings in that time. It was originally due to last just two months.

Even if a verdict is handed down soon, US officials said there is no legal clock on the appeals process, meaning Saddam could be in the dock for years in a series of trials.

The genocide case, involving the killing of thousands of Kurds, will take at least another year, lawyers said.

One problem is that Iraq's courts are learning how to work.

''The Dujail case is serving as a test cast, a judicial laboratory, for the judges to get used to the novel rules and procedures,'' said Scharf.

''Most importantly, they have learned how to balance the rights of the defendants and at the same time maintain control of the courtroom in the face of defence attempts to disrupt the proceedings.'' A difference between the Milosevic and Saddam trials is that Saddam is being tried on individual and specific charges, rather than a broad case of crimes against humanity.

''Each case stands on its own,'' said Scharf. ''At the end of each, there will be a judgment. The judgments of these min- trials constitute 'snapshots of evil' -- giving the flavour, if not telling the full story of the atrocities committed by the Saddam Hussein regime.'' A US official close to the trial said: ''Saddam's trial is based on known events, whereas Milosevic was tried on allegations he committed crimes during a historical period.'' Scharf helped train the five judges for the Saddam trial, and the Milosevic case was used as an example.

The former chief of the Iraqi Crimes Against Humanity Unit, Tom Parker, however, says it is more important for due process to be seen being done than for a speedy trial.

''I would argue that due process is ultimately more important than timeliness,'' he said.

Parker said the Saddam trial could ''be an important building block in the construction of a credible Iraqi judicial system'' and noted a rushed trial could signal nothing had changed and justice in Iraq was still ''biddable to political expediency''.


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