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Iraq: Conference Examines Hussein's Alleged War Crimes

Two Independent think-tanks in Washington that focus on the Middle East sponsored an all-day conference on alleged war crimes carried out by Iraqi President Saddam Hussein and his regime against the peoples of Iraq and neighboring nations. The U.S. ambassador-at-large for war crimes, David Scheffer, opened the event by reiterating the United States' commitment to seeing Hussein and his leadership indicted and prosecuted by an international war crimes tribunal. RFE/RL correspondent Lisa McAdams reports.

Washington, 19 September 2000 (RFE/RL) -- United States Ambassador-at-Large for War Crimes David Scheffer says the U.S. remains committed to seeing Iraqi President Saddam Hussein and his leadership indicted and prosecuted by an international criminal tribunal.

If that proves too difficult to achieve politically, Scheffer says there still may be opportunities in the national courts of certain jurisdictions to investigate and indict the leadership of Hussein's regime for what he said can only be described as crimes against humanity.

He also reiterated the U.S. commitment to improving conditions for the Iraqi people, but said he could not foresee the suspension of UN sanctions against Iraq, except through full compliance with the UN Security Council's resolutions adopted as a result of Hussein's crimes against humanity, genocide, and war crimes.

Scheffer's remarks came before an all-day conference in Washington entitled, "The Case for Justice in Iraq." It was sponsored by two independent think-tanks -- the Middle East Institute and the Iraq Foundation.

Our correspondent reports Scheffer's message was much the same as one he delivered almost one year ago today, in which he detailed progress in developing and preserving evidence of Iraqi crimes against its citizenry, but lamented that much more needs to be done.

In making the U.S. case for why Hussein must be brought to accountability, Scheffer focused first and foremost on present-day and past criminality in Iraq:

"To the United States government, it is beyond any possible doubt that Saddam Hussein and the top leadership around him have brutally and systematically committed war crimes and crimes against humanity for years, are committing them now, and will continue committing them until the international community finally says enough -- or until the forces of change in Iraq prevail against his regime as, ultimately, they must."

In order to illustrate why the U.S. believes Hussein's conduct deserves an international response, Scheffer reviewed what the United States knows to date of the Iraqi leader's record and those of his top associates.

He cited the Iran-Iraq War, the 1988 chemical attack on the northeastern town of Halabja, the Anfal campaigns against the Iraqi Kurdish people, and the 1990 invasion and occupation of Kuwait. Scheffer also noted the draining of the southern marshes, ethnic cleansing of ethnic "Persians" from Iraq to Iran, and the alleged killings of political opponents as further evidence. Who is responsible for these crimes, Scheffer asks -- then answers:

"Like Slobodan Milosevic, Saddam Hussein did not commit these crimes on his own. He has built up one of the world's most ruthless police states using a very small number of associates who share with him the responsibility for these criminal actions."

Scheffer singled out Ali Hassan al-Majid, more commonly referred to as "Chemical Ali," Saddam's elder son, Uday, his younger son Qusay, and Muhammad Hamza al-Zubaydi, the Deputy Prime Minister of Iraq.

Scheffer then detailed what the United States has been doing in the past year to gather the evidence of Iraqi crimes against humanity, war crimes, and genocide. He noted that the U.S. has been actively involved in several key archiving projects in coordination with the Iraq Foundation and the Iraq Research and Documentation Project. Scheffer announced that the U.S. had declassified several hundred more aerial photographs taken a little more than a week after the chemical attack in Halabja, which took place in March of 1988.

Scheffer said the U.S. hopes the images will serve as a photo map to enable witnesses to describe to investigators, doctors, and scientists what they were doing during those days of the Iraqi chemical attack and its aftermath.

Baghdad-born author and scholar Kanan Makiya was introduced as having detailed the brutality of Saddam Hussein's regime long before it was fashionable. Makiya, who now works with the Iraq Research and Documentation Project, told the conference that Saddam Hussein's regime is unique in its use of violence:

"The phenomenon therefore that we are all meeting here to talk about today is not spasmodic, occasional, the result of a sudden fit of vengefulness, a desire to exact a price for a particular act of disobedience; it is systemic. Cruelty is foundational in the peculiar police [state] that was built up by the Baath [party] in Iraq."

Makiya said the cruelty did not start with the Gulf war, but dates back as far as 1963. That is the year when Makiya -- then a young man of 14 -- recalls seeing the dead body of a man riddled with bullet holes broadcast repeatedly on Iraqi television, ostensibly for having carried out acts in opposition to the regime.

The message was not lost on Makiya, who has spent the entirety of his career fighting against what he calls the longest lasting dictatorship in the Middle East. Makiya says his view change will only come through a combination of international political will and better internal organization on the part of the Iraqi opposition.

U.S. officials have been meeting with witnesses and former Iraqi officials over the past year to gather evidence of Iraqi war crimes. Witnesses like Sahib Al-Hakim, who has had 27 immediate family members executed by the regime. Al-Hakim, now living in exile in London, is the Coordinator of the Organization of Human Rights in Iraq. He says justice will only be served once Saddam Hussein and his associates are indicted and tried before an international criminal tribunal.