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Iraq War Crimes Dossiers in Works

Strategy: The U.S. effort to document abuses by Hussein and his 'dirty dozen' reflects preparation for the aftermath of conflict.

October 06, 2002|ROBIN WRIGHT | TIMES STAFF WRITER

WASHINGTON — The Bush administration is laying the groundwork for prosecuting Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein and a "dirty dozen" other officials for genocide, "ethnic cleansing," mass executions, rape and other crimes against humanity.

The push to prepare dossiers for war crimes prosecutions, which now involves the State Department, the Pentagon and the intelligence community, reflects the growing momentum in Washington toward ousting Hussein and the increasing preparation for the days afterward -- even though President Bush has not yet made a decision on going to war against Iraq.

"We need to do our part to document the abuses, to collect the evidence that points to who is responsible," said Pierre-Richard Prosper, the State Department's ambassador at large for war crimes and a former U.N. war crimes prosecutor for the Rwanda tribunal. "We feel there has to be accountability for what has occurred. You can't brush aside the deaths of more than 100,000 people."

In a telling reflection of how the Iraqi leader relies on family and tribe to enforce his rule, half of the dozen on the U.S. list are members of Hussein's family: two sons, three half brothers and a cousin.

After Hussein, the next name on the list is Ali Hassan Majid, nicknamed "Chemical Ali" for his role in a 1988 operation--code-named Al Anfal, or "the spoils"--that used chemical weapons to kill tens of thousands of Kurds in northern Iraq.

Majid, a cousin of the Iraqi president, was also responsible for putting down 1991 uprisings by northern Kurds and southern Shiites after the first Bush administration called for Iraqis to oust Hussein.

At least 130,000 civilians have been killed as a result of deliberate regime policies during Hussein's 23-year rule, although that might prove to be only a fraction of the final tally, according to U.S. officials and human rights groups. Tens of thousands, including women, children and the elderly, were victims of chemical weapons attacks.

In a massive ethnic cleansing campaign, more than 120,000 Iraqis--primarily Kurds, Turkomans and Assyrians, none of whom are Arabs--have been forcibly expelled from the area around the northern city of Kirkuk to "Arabize" the oil-rich region, government and private groups say.

In the northern region known as Kurdistan, ethnic cleansing that began in 1991 has accelerated in recent months, according to Human Rights Watch. Every week, anywhere from three to 20 families are forcibly expelled from their homes and towns, said Hania Mufti, an Iraq specialist with Human Rights Watch who just returned from a fact-finding mission to the region.

The issue of justice is also key to Iraqis, both for healing deep wounds and for rebuilding the nation.

"For Iraqis and the international community, the issue of addressing Saddam's crimes against humanity is as important as addressing his possession and use of weapons of mass destruction," said Sermid Sarraf, an Iraqi American lawyer based in Los Angeles who works with the State Department on government transition issues.

The United States, with varying degrees of support from Iraqi opposition groups and human rights organizations, is looking at a three-tiered system of tribunals to deal with the thousands of army commanders, ruling Baath party officials, government employees, and security and intelligence agents implicated in war crimes.

In a break with the recent pattern of international war crimes prosecutions for the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda, the administration now favors a tribunal to try top officials inside a "free Iraq," with Iraqi and foreign judges, probably including Americans, according to administration officials.

The tribunal would prosecute the leadership--which could well expand beyond the original 12 after further investigations--for violations of both Iraqi law and international conventions.

"If and when there is a regime change, the appropriate forum should be at home, in a free and democratic Iraq," said Prosper, a former deputy district attorney in Los Angeles who dealt with hard-core gangs.

The concept has been endorsed by the Iraqi Jurists Assn., an exile group based in London, and by more than 40 Iraqi emigre judges, law professors and legal experts who met last month in Italy to discuss a transitional justice system in the event of Hussein's ouster.

The hybrid is also a model necessitated by the Bush administration's opposition to the International Criminal Court, human rights groups say. Washington would look hypocritical if it asked for a United Nations-mandated war crimes tribunal now.

"Other nations would see the U.S. action on Iraq to be particularly self-serving in the absence of cooperation on an international criminal court, which the rest of the world is keen on," said Michael Amitay, director of the research group Washington Kurdish Institute.

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