BAGHDAD, Iraq – A special Iraqi tribunal investigating Saddam Hussein (search) and his 11 henchmen on Tuesday promised free and fair trials for the former regime members, rejecting accusations that the proceeding so far have not been transparent.
"The Iraqi special tribunal wants to ensure that it is an Iraqi independent court and that it has its integrity, neutrality and transparency," the tribunal said in a statement received by The Associated Press Tuesday.
"The trial process (will) serve the truth and achieve justice for Iraqi people," it added.
Human rights advocates and lawyers say the tribunal's closed-door legal proceedings against Saddam's ousted regime and the secrecy leading up to the investigative hearings that began late last week threaten to undermine the legitimacy of the trial process.
Interim Prime Minister Ayad Allawi (search) surprised many by announcing the trials of several of Saddam's former regime members would begin sooner than had been expected, although no date was ever set. Then, a judge made similarly unexpected news — announcing without notice last Saturday that two high-profile defendants had already been interrogated.
Ali Hassan al-Majid, better known as Chemical Ali (search) for his role in poison gas attacks against the Kurdish minority, and former Defense Minister Gen. Sultan Hashim Ahmad appeared last Saturday at a preliminary hearing by investigative Judge Raad al-Juhyi.
"The investigation has been done in the presence of an Iraqi (lawyer) who has been chosen by the accused themselves," the tribunal said in the statement. The "accused were very cooperative during the investigation session and they may appear again according to the investigation needs."
The tribunal said that so far "the famous twelve Officials of Saddam's former regime" are accused of one crime — the Al-Anfal campaign against the Kurds between 1987-88 which included Saddam's depopulation scheme that killed and expelled hundreds of thousands of Kurds from northern Iraq. The offensive included the 1988 Halabja chemical weapons attacks.
The tribunal did not say when Saddam's trial will start. Saddam and 11 other defendants, all former members of the ousted Baathist regime, appeared in court in Baghdad in July on charges of war crimes and genocide.
"For the former Iraqi president Saddam Hussein, the investigation procedures are continuing," the statement said.