"Our primary objective is to see Saddam Hussein and the leadership of the Iraqi regime indicted and prosecuted by an international criminal tribunal,'' David J. Scheffer, ambassador at large for war crimes, said Monday.
"It is beyond any possible doubt that Saddam Hussein and the top leadership around him have brutally and systematically committed war crimes and crimes against humanity for years,'' he said in a speech at the National Press Club.
World governments since 1997 have been negotiating establishment of an International Criminal Court, which would be the world's first permanent war crimes tribunal.
Establishment of the court could take at least two years, and it would lack jurisdiction over crimes committed earlier, Scheffer said.
That is why, he said, a special court is necessary to judge "the continuing criminality'' of Saddam's rule.
Special tribunals already are sitting in judgment over war crimes in Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia. At the request of the United States, the Yugoslavia panel has indicted Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic for crimes in the Balkans.
In its last months, the Clinton administration has stepped up an already vigorous campaign against Milosevic and Saddam, accusing the Serbian leader of intimidation and other tactics designed to "steal'' Yugoslavia's presidential election in November and alleging countless human rights abuses and crimes by Saddam.
Getting a tribunal to hear charges against the Iraqi president would not be easy. Several members of the U.N. Security Council do not share the administration's zeal to punish him.
Scheffer suggested as an alternative that a commission of experts could be appointed to judge Saddam and his associates. Or, he said, courts in various nations may be able to investigate and indict Iraqi government leaders.
Detailing what he said the United States knows about Saddam's record, Scheffer said approximately 5,000 Iranians were killed by chemical weapons between 1983 and 1988 during the Iran-Iraq war, an estimated 5,000 Kurdish civilians died from chemical weapons in the Iraqi town of Halabja in 1988, and poison gas killed an estimated 50,000 to 100,000 Kurds in Iraq in 1987-1988.
Also, Scheffer said, during Iraq's occupation of Kuwait in 1990-91 more than 1,000 Kuwaitis and nationals from other countries were killed, and Iraq committed war crimes against American service members.
Many civilians were among 30,000 to 60,000 Iraqis killed by Iraqi forces in suppressing an uprising that began in the south of the country in 1991, after the end of the Persian Gulf War in February. In addition, the country's southern marshes were drained, beginning in the early 1990s, to deprive thousands of Iraqi Shiites of their livelihoods, Scheffer said.
The use of poison gas and the draining of the marshes are crimes against humanity, he said.
In the meantime, Scheffer said, Saddam has used murder, torture and, lately, rape in a campaign against political opponents. And, he said, Saddam is carrying out a systematic campaign of murder and intimidation of clergy.
"Like Slobodan Milosevic, Saddam Hussein did not commit these crimes on his own,'' Scheffer said. "He has built up one of the world's most ruthless police states, using a very small number of associates who share with him responsibility for these criminal actions.''