Saddam probe could take years, investigator says

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A California University of Pennsylvania professor who led an international investigation into suspected war crimes of former Yugoslav leader Slobodan Milosevic said it could take two years to build a top-shelf case against Saddam Hussein and bring him to trial for crimes against humanity.

John R. Cencich, 45, joined California University in fall 2002 after a four-year stint with the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia.

The Associated Press yesterday quoted members of the Iraqi Governing Council as saying Saddam could be brought to trial in months, if not weeks.

"That's a scary thought," Cencich said, adding that it shows the Iraqis' inexperience with modern justice systems. He noted that the former dictator has not been indicted, let alone had the opportunity to meet with lawyers or review evidence.

"You can't have a trial without a criminal investigation, and nobody's talking about that," said Cencich, who teaches criminal law, international criminal justice and organized crime.

He said the investigation should include collection of evidence that must be evaluated and incorporated into a prosecution plan.

Like the trial, he said, the investigation should be guided by U.S. or international experts because Iraqi officials aren't up to the task.

"They don't have the education," he said. "They don't have the training. They don't have the expertise."

As he tells it, investigators must maintain a professional detachment while doing their work. Cencich, for example, still won't directly discuss Milosevic, except to say he's innocent until proven guilty.

Cencich has a law degree from the University of Kent in Canterbury, England, and special training from the FBI, Scotland Yard and the Air Force Office of Special Investigations. He spent much of his law enforcement career investigating liquor store robberies, illegal gambling, bootlegging, drug-related crimes and racketeering.

He was a senior special agent with the Virginia Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control's Bureau of Law Enforcement when he heard about the Yugoslav tribunal's need for investigators. He spent two years working with the teams investigating Milosevic's alleged war crimes in Bosnia and Kosovo, then received an unexpected promotion.

As chief investigator of crimes Milosevic is accused of committing during ethnic fighting in Croatia from August 1991 through at least June 1992, Cen-cich traveled to devastated cities and villages, finding witnesses and survivors, searching for mass graves and directing evidence gathering efforts.

Cencich said the situation in Iraq is much different from that in Yugoslavia, making it sensible for Saddam to be tried in his own country.

Major hostilities in Iraq have been over for months, he said, whereas the Yugoslav tribunal was created to deter war crimes while fighting raged across the Balkans.

While Saddam would be the key target of an Iraqi tribunal, he said, the Yugoslav tribunal has had to deal with multiple suspects accused of committing multiple crimes in multiple locations. Besides investigating Serb aggression against Croats, for example, the tribunal investigated Croat aggression against Serbs and Muslims.

Cencich said it wouldn't be necessary to move Saddam's trial out of Iraq to reduce the emotionalism of the event. Holding Yugoslav trials at The Hague, he said, hasn't helped in that way.

Joe Smydo can be reached at or 724-746-8812.


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