Putting a spotlight on Saddam’s record of execution and torture could help shore up public support for the invasion damaged by a US prison abuse scandal, Sen. Arlen Specter, a Pennsylvania Republican, said on Wednesday.
Specter said he has been lobbying Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney and White House Chief of Staff Andrew Card to expedite Saddam’s trial to as early as August.
White House spokesman Scott McClellan said US and Iraqi officials were discussing the timing of Saddam’s trial.
“We would like to see him face justice as soon as possible by that tribunal,” McClellan said, but added: “I’m not putting a time frame on it.”
Specter, a senior member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, is seeking the administration’s support for a Senate resolution that calls for Iraq’s interim government to put Saddam on trial “as soon as possible” following the June 30 transfer of limited authority.
Aides said Specter was gaining support for the non-binding resolution from fellow Republicans in Congress.
“To try Saddam would put a lot of other issues in perspective,” said Specter, who accompanied Bush on a visit to Philadelphia. “What Saddam did sort of fades from memory… Our prestige is on the line.”
McClellan was supportive of the effort but said several steps had to be taken first.
“First of all, you have to have the transfer of sovereignty before you can turn over detainees like Saddam Hussein. Then the tribunal, we expect, would be making a request at some point,” McClellan said.
The United States plans to turn over legal, but not physical, custody of Saddam and some other prisoners to the Iraqi interim government soon after it takes over on June 30.
Bush’s allies pressing for swift
Bush has refused to hand over Saddam physically until the Iraqis can ensure he is being held in an adequately secured detention facility.
“Those are issues we’re discussing with the interim government,” McClellan said.
US forces captured Saddam in December from a hideout near his hometown of Tikrit.
Designated by Washington as a prisoner of war, the former president has been held at an undisclosed location in Iraq.
An official said Saddam and other detainees handed over legally to the new government would then become “subject to Iraqi due process, including the right to speedy trial, the right to counsel and the right to have judicially issued arrest warrants in place to authorse continued detention”.