Opponents of Iraqi President Saddam Hussein are laying the groundwork for trying him on war crimes changes once a "free Iraq" is established, administration officials said Monday.
The administration endorsed the plan and provided funding for a recent seminar of anti-Saddam Iraqi legal experts who last month in Italy to discuss the issue.
The Iraqis weighed plans not only to try Saddam but dozens of other colleagues, including Ali Hassan Majid, nicknamed "Chemical Ali" for his role in a 1987-88 campaign in which chemical weapons were used to kill tens of thousands of Kurds in northern Iraq.
The administration's support for the war crimes initiative was first disclosed by the Los Angeles Times.
The Italy deliberations were part of a series of State Department meetings on life in the post-Saddam era. The goal is to make the transition as smooth as possible.
U.S. officials, asking not to be identified, acknowledged there is doubt that Saddam would ever be brought to trial because there are no assurances he would captured alive or that President Bush will order military action against his regime.
A month ago, David Scheffer, a former Clinton administration adviser on war crimes issues, said he waged an often lonely campaign to compile the criminal records against the Iraqi regime and to seek indictments of Saddam and other Iraqi officials.
Scheffer, writing in The Washington Post, said that shortly before President Clinton left office, a government investigative team had amassed millions of pages of documents.
"Yet no Iraqi official has ever been indicted for some of the worst crimes of the 20th century," Scheffer wrote.
He said his efforts to obtain U.N. Security Council approval for an ad hoc international criminal tribunal encountered "one obstacle after another in foreign capitals, in New York and even within the Clinton administration."