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U.S. to Create New Iraq Central Court

The 10-judge tribunal will ease overloaded judicial system and hear cases involving Baath Party members, among others.

June 18, 2003|Alissa J. Rubin | Times Staff Writer

BAGHDAD — Faced with a growing backlog in Iraq's criminal courts, U.S. civilian administrator L. Paul Bremer III announced the creation of a new central court Tuesday to speed the handling of the caseload.

The cases heard by the criminal court, which will have 10 judges, will include some involving members of the formerly ruling Baath Party. A special judicial review commission, which is picking judges to sit on the court, is trying to select people who are free of the taints of Baath Party association or corruption.

Only two criminal courts are operating in Baghdad, and with more detentions every day as Baghdad and international military police widen their activities, the judges are unable to keep up with the cases.

The new court "will allow us to try particularly egregious criminals quickly," Bremer said.

He added that one reason to establish the court was to try Baathists who had instigated or committed crimes against the occupation authority. The court could evolve into a tribunal to try people accused of crimes against humanity, but Bremer said "that really is a decision an eventual Iraqi government has to make."

The court will rely on Iraqi law, which is a civil law system similar to France's Napoleonic code. But there will be three changes from the previous Iraqi system, Bremer said. Defendants will be allowed to have legal representation from the beginning of the proceedings and the right to remain silent without an assumption of guilt. Torture will be prohibited.

In an effort to control the ongoing hostility toward U.S. troops, Bremer said, the occupation authority has issued an order that makes it illegal to incite political violence. In the central Iraqi towns where opposition is strongest, leaflets have been distributed that encourage people to attack U.S. troops.

On Monday, a U.S. soldier from the Army's 1st Armored Division was killed when a sniper targeted him during a night patrol, the U.S. Central Command said. The soldier, identified as Pvt. Shawn D. Pahnke, 25, of Shelbyville, Ind., was sitting in the back seat of a Humvee when he was attacked. The gunman escaped.

Violence has flared recently. In one instance, a car exploded in western Baghdad near an intersection that had been monitored by U.S. troops earlier in the day. There was no explanation for the explosion.

In Fallouja, a city west of Baghdad where U.S. troops have been repeatedly attacked, Iraqis who have cooperated with Americans came under fire Tuesday. The shots were aimed at the mayor's office, where U.S. soldiers have been working to restore the town's infrastructure, and the courthouse, the Associated Press reported.

Since major combat operations were declared completed May 1, about 50 U.S. troops have died in Iraq, either by hostile fire or in accidents.

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