Global Policy Forum

US Lays Out Conditions of Saddam Transfer


By Adam Entous

June 16, 2004

United States President George Bush said on Tuesday he will not hand over former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein to the interim Iraqi government until it has secure facilities in place to ensure he does not escape trial.

As an intermediate step, officials said the Bush administration was prepared to transfer "legal custody" of Saddam to the new government. But the US military would continue to hold him physically until Washington is satisfied a secure Iraqi-run facility and Iraqi security forces are ready.

The administration would not commit to handing over Saddam and other prisoners by the June 30 transfer of power, as asserted by interim Iraqi Prime Minister Iyad Allawi. The White House said a UN Security Council resolution passed last week gave US forces the authority to hold prisoners deemed to be security threats after June 30.

State Department spokesperson Richard Boucher said international law allows prisoners of war to be detained "as long as the hostilities continue ... (and) it is quite clear at this point that hostilities continue."

President George Bush said the United States would not allow "lax security" to jeopardise plans for Saddam to be tried by a special tribunal - comments that underscored the administration's lack of confidence in Iraqi security forces. "He (Saddam) is a killer. He is a thug. He needs to be brought to trial," Bush said in a Rose Garden news conference with Afghan President Hamid Karzai.

"We want to make sure that he (Saddam) doesn't come back to power. And so therefore, it's a legitimate question to ask of the interim government: 'How are you going to make sure he stays in jail?' And that's the question I'm asking. And when we get the right answer, which I'm confident we will - we'll work with them to do so - then we'll all be satisfied," Bush said.

Allawi said on Monday that Saddam and other prisoners would be given to the new Iraqi government within two weeks to prepare for trial. But in a potential rift, Bush and his spokesman, Scott McClellan, were noncommittal about the timing. "We're going to turn him over at the appropriate time... We're talking to them about those issues, and about the process for turning them over," McClellan said.

The International Committee of the Red Cross said prisoners of war and all other detainees in Iraq are entitled to a speedy legal process after the June 30 handover. But McClellan drew a distinction between "criminal prisoners" - which will be turned over to the interim government - and detainees that pose a "security threat" to US and allied forces. He said a June 5 letter tied to the UN resolution specifically states that the multinational force in Iraq is authorised to perform certain tasks, including "internment where this is necessary for imperative reasons of security."

US troops captured Saddam in December. He has been in US custody as a prisoner of war at an unknown location. The United States has agreed to give him - and other officials in its custody - to the Iraqis for trial once a sovereign government sets up a special tribunal capable of conducting a fair trial after June 30. The tribunal plans to charge some of Saddam's associates by the end of this year.

The proposed compromise over custody of Saddam could serve both US and Iraqi interests. The United States would be assured Saddam is secure since he would remain under US guard. And by transferring legal custody of Saddam to Iraqis by June 30, Washington could avoid court challenges by human rights groups.

Iraqis, in turn, would have a free hand to prepare for Saddam's trial. Once a secure detention facility is ready to hold him, the United States would transfer physical custody, officials said.

More Information on International Justice
More Information on the Iraq Tribunal
More Information on the Iraq Crisis
More Information on International Criminal Tribunals and Special Courts


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