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IRAQ'S OVERTHROWN PRESIDENT, Saddam Hussein, will be forced to confront the record of brutality he set over years in power during the course of a trial that is likely to last several months. In preliminary hearings before a special tribunal on Thursday, the deposed ruler was formally indicted for crimes committed against his own people and those of a neighbouring country. Mr. Hussein is accused of masterminding the murder of religious leaders in 1974; the gassing of Kurds in Halabja in 1988; the killing of the Kurdish Barzani clan in 1983; the assassination of political rivals in the last 30 years; the "Anfal" campaign to displace Kurds in 1986-88; the 1990 invasion of Kuwait and, the suppression of the uprising by Kurds and Shias in 1991. There will be no lack of evidence since other Governments, human rights groups and the international media gathered information as these outrages were being committed. The relatives and others representing the people victimised by the Ba'athist regime waited for years to see Mr. Hussein brought to justice and they can now be expected to try and substantiate the charges. In particular, the people of Kuwait claim to have documented proof of the murders, abductions and plunder carried out by Iraqi forces during the seven month-long occupation. These atrocities were committed on the orders of a Baghdad cabal that had embarked on an illegal and revanchist attempt to redraw the map.

The prosecution's failure to indict the deposed dictator for imposing an unjust eight-year war on Iran that caused hundreds of thousands of deaths cannot be justified on any ground. Iraq's aggression against its eastern neighbour was as reprehensible as its invasion of Kuwait. In both the cases, Mr. Hussein launched his attacks without any provocation driven solely by his expansionist ambitions. While a United States-led international coalition provided the Kuwaitis with some redress by driving out the invaders and forcing them to pay reparations — and in the process inflicted enormous suffering on the hard-pressed people of Iraq during the Gulf War and subsequently — the Iranians have not been recompensed for the suffering they endured. Poison gas was used against the defending army and barrages of Scud missiles were fired at Teheran and other cities in utter disregard for civilian lives. The prosecutors apparently took their cue from the U.S. administration, which wields real power in Iraq, when they declined to include the atrocities committed on Iran in the list of charges against Mr. Hussein. However, it was inexplicable that the prosecutors did not indict the Ba'athists for cruelly suppressing the broad mass of Iraqis and for making them suffer the consequences (such as the devastating economic sanctions imposed after the 1991 Gulf War) of the leadership's misadventures.

While Mr. Hussein and his cohorts have plenty to answer for, the criminal proceedings initiated against them in an illegal court in an unfree nation under U.S.-led military occupation represent a travesty of justice. The tribunal was established by a government that is not representative of the Iraqi people and instead is widely perceived as a puppet that serves Washington's interests. Lawyers hired by Mr. Hussein are likely to argue that their client is immune from punishment because his status as President of the country cannot be undermined by an illegitimate invasion. Technically the law to be applied in such cases will have no leg to stand on since the old constitution has been abrogated and the new one is yet to be adopted. With all the suffering that the Iraqis have undergone over the years, they deserve the chance to bring their oppressors to justice before independent and impartial tribunals that apply laws universally perceived to be legitimate and follow fair procedures. The proceedings initiated in a Baghdad courtroom fail shamefully and tragically to meet these criteria.

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