"They want to televise it, which is interesting," he said of the judges on the tribunal. "They really think that justice has to be seen as fairly done, and they want the Iraqi people to see justice fairly unfold."
Dicker, of Human Rights Watch, said one controversial issue involved how much evidence defendants would be allowed to introduce to rebut the allegations against them.
For example, "how much evidence will be let in in terms of U.S. government involvement and knowledge in 1987 to 1988 of Saddam Hussein's use of poison weapons against the Kurdish population ... or the Iranian population?" he asked.
The worst thing, he said, would be "some kind of fantasy political show trial."
"In sending the signal that it is not business as usual from the old Baathist regime, these trials are symbols, and that is why we want to see them succeed," he said. "But to succeed, they need to adhere to international fair-trial standards."
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Regime on trial
Saddam Hussein and at least 11 other high-profile detainees will be tried on mass murder and genocide charges. Hussein's case isn't expected to go to trial until at least late 2005.
The first charges
Hussein's half-brother Barzan, former Vice President Taha Yassin Ramadan and three others are charged in a case stemming from an incident on July 8, 1982, when Hussein's motorcade was fired on by a group of villagers in Dujayl, north of Baghdad. More than 140 people were allegedly executed and about 1,500 imprisoned.
Iraqi Special Tribunal
Established Dec. 20, 2003, by order of L. Paul Bremer III, head of the Coalition Provisional Authority, based on a statute passed by the Iraqi Governing Council.
1. Investigative phase:
Consists of 20 permanent judges and 10 reserve judges, assisted by attorneys and researchers who investigate allegations, collect evidence and compile dossiers against suspects that become the basis for the trial panelsO hearings.
In progress for more than a year. Dossiers are nearing conclusion.
2. Trial panels:
Two chambers consisting of five judges each who hear cases and reach decisions by majority vote.
A prosecutor and defense attorneys are present, but unlike in U.S. courts, judges take the leading role in calling and questioning witnesses and weighing evidence.
3. Court of Appeals:
Nine judges, who then elect one of their number as president.
Source: Times reporting
Zaynab Hussain of The Times' Baghdad Bureau contributed to this report.