Iraqis Visit Netherlands to Study Tribunals

In an early step toward creating a war crimes tribunal, Iraqi lawyers and judges have visited international courts in the Netherlands to study the complex procedure of trying accused criminals like Saddam Hussein (search), an organizer said Wednesday.

The visits last month brought together the Iraqi officials and experts from the International Criminal Court, based in The Hague (search), and war crimes tribunals for Rwanda, Sierra Leone, East Timor and the former Yugoslavia (search).

"They discussed practical and legal issues about how you establish a tribunal from the ground up," said Laurel Miller of the Washington-based Institute of Peace, a non-governmental organization that arranged the March 21-22 visit.

The Iraqis spoke to a panel of 13 experts from nine countries. The group represented war crimes prosecutors, defense lawyers and judges, but also administrators and managers, Miller said.

In December, Iraq's Governing Council (search) was authorized to set up a special tribunal to try war crimes, and a team of U.S. investigators has begun gathering evidence against Saddam and others in his ousted regime.

But the court will be created and run by Iraqis, and is still in a planning stage.

The delegation that traveled to the Netherlands was led by Iraqi lawyer Salem Chalabi, who is coordinating the creation of the new tribunal. Chalabi is a nephew of Ahmad Chalabi (search), a member of the Iraqi Governing Council.

Salem Chalabi (search) has said the Iraqi tribunal would prosecute lower-ranking suspects before trying Saddam.

Miller said the work of trying war crimes and other atrocities is formidable because of the huge amount of information presented.

"In a war crimes case there are lots of witnesses, lots of victims, and the volume of documentary evidence is much greater than in an ordinary criminal case," she said.