European Press Review: The Tug O′ War over Saddam | Europe| News and current affairs from around the continent | DW | 16.06.2004
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European Press Review: The Tug O' War over Saddam

European newspapers on Wednesday weighed in on the wrestling between Washington and the Iraqi interim government over the fate of Saddam Hussein.

Some European editorial writers comment on the demand made by Iraq’s Prime Minister Iyad Allawi for United States authorities to hand over former dictator Saddam Hussein before the transfer of power on June 30. President George W. Bush has refused to set a date.

"For the Americans in Iraq it was perhaps the last ace in their hand. But now they can’t score points with it because they are being forced to play it," remarks Germany’s Handelsblatt in Düsseldorf. "Now that the demand is on the table Washington has missed its chance to give up freely its most prominent prisoner." The paper warns that U.S. officials must deliver him, so as not to discredit the new interim government. However, the daily isn’t certain that such a move would be a good idea. If Saddam is not now handed over to an international court, we can expect to hear accusations that the Iraqi court will seek revenge, the paper comments, adding that there are plenty of indications that the court may well not shy away from the death penalty.

On that note, Vienna’s Kurier believes the release of the some 1,400 prisoners of war, including former dictator Saddam Hussein, could prove a difficult legal hurdle for Iraqis. The paper says that once power is handed over, the war is legally over, and the title prisoner of war won’t exist anymore. "According to international law the men being held must either be charged or set free," but the paper wonders whether Iraq’s frail justice system will be able to manage this.

Le Monde in Paris comments on the torture of Iraqi prisoners by U.S. forces. The paper demands an explanation of how American lawyers in the U.S. Justice Department managed to gloss over what, exactly, were deemed to be acceptable doses of physical and psychological brutality, taking what was within the legal limit and not consider it torture? The paper thinks the revelations of these documents show that the torture scandal has crossed a disturbing line that goes beyond what Washington blames on a 'few bad apples,' "on the contrary," it says, "this is a part of a strategy concocted at the highest level of state."

Some of the British papers comment on the trial of Mikhail Khordorkovsky, the former head of Russia’s oil giant Yukos, which starts on Wednesday.

London’s Financial Times writes that the outcome of the trial will reveal much about the scope for doing business in Russia, the evolution of the country’s oil sector and the nature of Putin’s regime, which it notes "many people believe is increasingly prepared to move against the interests of investors in its efforts to bring key resources under control."

Also in Britain, The Independent bluntly states that if President Putin believes in democracy there should not be show trials in Russia. The paper says there are many reasons to believe that Khordorkovsky committed some sort of crime, but at the same time the paper wonders why he was singled out by the Kremlin? The daily has a list of ideas as to why but concludes that none of them are acceptable in a civilized, law-governed society of the sort that Putin insists that Russia aspires to be.