One Iraqi Governing Council member and judge, Dara Nur al-Din, has highlighted the impartiality problem already.

Having helped draft the statute creating the war crimes tribunal, Nur al-Din told journalists on Monday that people in Iraq need "to see the nature of crimes committed with Saddam at the helm".

Ahmad Chalabi, another member of the Governing Council, promised: "Saddam will stand a public trial so that the Iraqi people will know his crimes".

US President George Bush has also promised that "the former dictator of Iraq will face the justice he denied to millions" - though he did not say where the former president would be tried and by whom.

No judges or administrators have yet been appointed to the tribunal, and with no transitional government set to assume sovereignty until 1 July – questions of how justice is to be meted out are bound to be asked.

For instance, could the Iraqi tribunal have the power to impose death sentences? International human rights groups are concerned over early indications.

Victor's justice?

"The example of the Romanian dictator Nicolae Ceausescu - shot after a summary trial in 1989 - reminds us how things should not be done"

Steve Crawshaw,
director, Human Rights Watch

Amnesty International has told Aljazeera.net that as Iraq's former military commander in chief, Hussein is most certainly a prisoner of war and should be given prompt access to the international Red Cross.

"Like any other criminal suspect he is entitled to all relevant safeguards under international law, including the right not to be subjected to torture or ill-treatment", said Amnesty spokeswoman Nicole Shuairy.

"Of course he has the right to receive a fair trial, a defense lawyer and the minimum safeguards as any other prisoner," she added. 

Humiliating Saddam

But to the applause of "impartial" western and Iraqi journalists, the former president was paraded in front of television screens around the world.

It was only last March that American officials expressed their anger over the parading of five American soldiers on Iraqi television.

Just after the end of the invasion, the International Red Cross said occupation forces should re-examine the way they handled PoWs.

Referring to Article 13 in the third convention, Florian Westphal, from the ICRC, said PoWs should at all times be humanely treated, protected particularly against acts of violence or intimidation and against "insults and public curiosity".

Fundamental flaws

Human rights' groups are wary that the Iraqi decree establishing the new tribunal is fundamentally flawed because it was proclaimed by an unelected body and without consultation with the Iraqi people or the international community.
 

Increasingly likely President Bush
will not allow international trial

Activists also say the decree does not ensure that guilt has to be proven beyond reasonable doubt.

"Another concern is the death penalty," Shuairy said. "He should be punished for his crimes, but the death penalty is not included. That goes without saying."
 
Convenient international justice

The London director of Human Rights Watch, Steve Crawshaw, told Aljazeera.net that any sense Saddam Hussein was being exposed to revenge justice would lessen the chance of stability in Iraq.

While he accepts The International Criminal Court (ICC) can only hear crimes committed since 1 July 2002, he believes it is a fundamental flaw that there is little provision to involve international judges.

"Part of the problem is the loathing that the US feels for international justice, as reflected by its desire to throttle the ICC at birth," Crawshaw said.

Eager not to upset Washington, the Iraqi Governing Council has set out plans for five Iraqi judges with no legal requirement for international legal observers on what will prove hugely complex cases, he added.

He too regrets the retention of the death penalty. "The example of the Romanian dictator Nicolae Ceausescu - shot after a summary trial in 1989 - reminds us how things should not be done. That execution hindered long-term justice in Romania."

Geneva conventions

Louise Christian, solicitor for three British detainees in Guantanamo Bay, also believes the US continues to talk about international justice when it suits them.

"On their original arrest Guantanamo detainees too were humiliated and paraded on TV manacled, shackled and hooded," she said.

The Third Geneva Convention was signed by the United States, Iraq and more than 180 other governments.

It is designed to protect the lives, health and dignity of uniformed combatants; the civilians accompanying them, like war correspondents; and some guerrilla fighters.

It includes guarantees of things like food, clothing and shelter, and protections against torture, coercion and humiliation.

US position changing?

Officially, the US position as laid out in a State Department document in 1999 is that: "The goal of the United States is to see Saddam Hussein indicted by an international tribunal."

But until recently, the type of trial envisaged remained vague.
 
But Charles Forest, director of a London-based group funded partly by the US State Department believes the position is changing.

Responsible for gathering evidence for a war crimes trial, he told journalists on Monday: "There is a growing consensus that the best solution would be for Saddam Hussein to be tried in Iraq under Iraqi law."