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Coalition Transfers Legal Custody of Saddam Hussein

By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, June 30, 2004 – The coalition officially transferred legal custody of Saddam Hussein and 11 other high-profile detainees to Iraq today.

Iraqi Prime Minister Iyad Allawi requested the transfer June 29, calling it an important step as Iraq takes control of its affairs after gaining sovereignty from the Coalition Provisional Authority June 28.

"We Iraqis believe that to truly be in control of our affairs and our own future, we must be in control of the destiny of the people we believe most responsible for so much of the suffering the Iraqi people endured over the past 35 years," Allawi said.

Saddam is expected to be charged by an Iraqi investigative judge July 1. Salem Chalabi, head of the Special Iraqi Tribunal, said Saddam and the other detainees will physically remain in U.S. hands until Iraqi correctional service is ready to accept them.

"The multinational force has agreed to this, and they will keep them for the Iraqis, but Iraq will keep the legal custody," Allawi said. The agreement is formalized in a memorandum of understanding between Iraq's Ministry of Justice and Multinational Force Iraq.

Allawi said the accused will be "afforded rights that were denied by the former regime" as their cases are heard by an independent judiciary. "The accused will have access to legal counsel, and they will have the right to appoint legal counsel," he said. If unable to pay for their legal counsel, they will receive it free of charge, he added.

Saddam and the other detainees "may not be compelled to testify against themselves and may remain silent" during their legal proceedings, Allawi added.

Although legal proceedings are under way, Allawi acknowledged that the judicial process "will take some time," likely not beginning "for a number of months." But he assured reporters that the process will be fair and open. "Justice will be done, however, and the process of these cases will be open for all to see," he said.

Allawi said transfer of legal custody of Saddam and others of the "most notorious and high-profile detainees" to Iraq represents a big step as Iraq enters "a new era" its second within the past 14 months.

"Last April, Iraq began an era free from Saddam Hussein," he said. "We Iraqis are grateful for the coalition action that liberated us from the former dictator's tyrannical grip."

With the June 28 sovereignty transfer, Allawi said, Iraq has entered yet another new era that includes bringing those responsible for past atrocities to justice.

"More than 1 million Iraqis are missing as a result of events that occurred during the former regime. Hundreds of thousands of Iraqis of all religions and ethnic groups are believed to be buried in mass graves," he said.

"Those we believe most responsible for Iraq's suffering will face Iraqi justice," Allawi continued. "I know I speak for my fellow countrymen when I say I look forward to the day former regime leaders face justice, God willing."

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