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Professor: How Saddam should be treated

Law professor Ruth Wedgewood
Law professor Ruth Wedgewood

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Saddam Hussein

WASHINGTON (CNN) Even before former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein was captured, there were questions about if, where and how he should strand trial.

CNN anchor Wolf Blitzer discussed Saddam's legal status with Yale University international law professor Ruth Wedgewood.

WEDGEWOOD: He can be viewed as any of three things. He can be viewed as a POW because he was captured in some sense in battle. He can be viewed as a putative defendant for the war crimes tribunal set up last Wednesday -- in the nick of time -- by the Iraqi Governing Council. Or he could be viewed also as a person under the Fourth Geneva Convention who was engaging in activity hostile to the occupying authority.

BLITZER: So he could be a detainee?

WEDGEWOOD: He's a detainee three ways till Sunday.

BLITZER: Under international law, is the United States obliged to give him any consideration, any rights what so ever right now?

WEDGEWOOD: He has to be treated humanely. He does not get a lawyer in 48 hours; he is a wartime, war-law internee. So he can be debriefed for intelligence, he can be asked questions about weapons of mass destruction and about connections to al Qaeda and connections to Abu Nidal and where his supplies were coming from in Europe; so he can be thoroughly questioned as long as it's done humanely.

BLITZER: And that means he can't be tortured. But there are forms of physical pressure that can be legally used on him short of what we would call torture.

WEDGEWOOD: That's a very difficult area. I think the general view -- and it's the better view legally -- is that you get more with honey than with vinegar. That if you make it clear to him where his equities lie, which is in not having, for example, members of his family who may be legally liable -- be vulnerable to prosecution -- that you can get things in ordinary way.

BLITZER: I'm talking about, for example, one technique that they've used with suspected terrorists -- sleep deprivation, which is not necessarily torture, but something that presumably could be used to elicit information. And Saddam Hussein right now has a lot of information the United States would like to get.

WEDGEWOOD: If you talk to experienced interrogators, the ordinary way to go is to do it by good psychology and explaining his self interest.

BLITZER: But is sleep deprivation allowed under the Geneva Convention?

WEDGEWOOD: You'll get criticized. It's not discussed in Geneva -- it's not torture. I think we don't consider it to be inhumane or degrading under limited circumstances. I think you'll get international criticism if you use that.

BLITZER: Because he's being held in Iraq, none of the U.S. legal rules and regulations are applicable?

WEDGEWOOD: Last I looked, he's not going to have habeas corpus to the District of Alexandria, (Virginia).

BLITZER: Why should former Bosnian leader Slobodan Milosevic be tried at the war crimes tribunal at The Hague and Saddam Hussein be tried in Iraq.

WEDGEWOOD: Number one, the particular tribunal at The Hague that you're speaking of is limited in its jurisdiction only to Yugoslavia. I think frankly, though, the reason to try Saddam -- as has now been set up as of last Wednesday -- in an Iraqi-led court is that the whole emphasis should be on returning political power and judicial power -- which is part of political power -- to the Iraqi people.

I'm waiting for international criticism to roll in that we're wrongly returning power to the Iraqi people -- that would obviously be a mockery of what they've been saying in the past. There's now a court that was set up by statute last Wednesday. It's going to be an Iraqi-led court.

They do have the power -- if they wish -- to appoint non-Iraqi judges as well. They're required to have international advisors, both to help on technicalities of war crimes law and to give a kind of transparency to the due process. But I think it's centrally important to the reconstruction of the Iraqi democracy.

BLITZER: By all accounts, this is a process that's going to drag on for a long time. It's not a matter of a two-week trial and he's going to be hung in a public square, which is what would have probably happened under Saddam Hussein's rule.

WEDGEWOOD: It's not going to be Baathist justice, it's not going to be Rwanda. It's going to be a long, investigative process. I think we're going to have him in custody for quite some time to debrief him. And then to put together the full panoply of what Saddam has done will take a good number of months.

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