Saddam Hussein's trial to appear on Net

The proceedings, scheduled to start Wednesday, won't be live, but they will be available in varying degrees--and costs--online.

Anne Broache Staff Writer, CNET News.com
Anne Broache
covers Capitol Hill goings-on and technology policy from Washington, D.C.
Anne Broache
3 min read
The long-awaited trial of deposed Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein, scheduled to start Wednesday before a five-judge panel, is going to be broadcast on the Web.

But the Arabic Webcast may not prove to be wildly popular in English-speaking nations; news organizations are grappling with the task of simultaneous translations, and last-minute legal wrangling appears to have eliminated the possibility of live feeds from the courtroom in Iraq.

"There are serious security concerns" associated with a live broadcast, said Michael Scharf, a Case Western Reserve University law professor who has provided training to judges and prosecutors participating in the trial. With a delay, Scharf said, the tribunal has time to blur faces of witnesses who testify and to edit out any other identifying information that could put their lives in danger.

Hussein was arrested in December 2003 and charged in the killing of more than 140 men after they made a failed attempt on his life. Seven other formerly high-ranking officials will be tried alongside him, and they all may be charged with additional crimes in the future.

The Iraqi Special Tribunal has created a Web site with limited background on the proceedings but is not offering even a time-delayed Webcast. Instead, news organizations will be provided with an untranslated shared feed that they can use as they see fit.

The Associated Press plans to stream Wednesday's events online at as close to a live timeframe as possible, said online editor Lou Ferrara. The trial is scheduled to begin sometime between 5 a.m. and 7 a.m. PDT and conclude around 12 p.m. PDT.

The AP's content--likely with an English translation--will be made available through its Web site to news organizations that subscribe to its live video feeds. Ferrara was unable to provide a precise number of organizations that pay for the service, though he said approximately 500 newspapers distribute some form of online content from the organization.

Many news organizations said Tuesday that they were finalizing details of their coverage, with plans ranging from free snippets to full video streams for paying customers only. Adding more uncertainty was the actual delay that will be imposed by the tribunal--some organizations said it was set at 20 minutes, while others pegged it at half an hour.

An MSNBC.com representative said the site plans to present some kind of a video stream, but editors are discussing with parent NBC whether that feed will be dominated by coverage from inside the courtroom or reports from correspondents outside.

CNN does not anticipate making the same volume of material available on the Web as it does on television, said spokeswoman Megan Mahoney. It plans to show clips of highlights from the day and reports from correspondents on its Web site while televising larger chunks of the trial.

Cable network C-SPAN plans to translate and make available "significant portions of the trial" through its Web site, said spokeswoman Jennifer Moore. She said the Web coverage would likely mirror a Wednesday prime-time television broadcast and would appear online Thursday morning, if not sooner.

Court TV, which is affiliated with CNN, plans to show the trial in its entirety through its online subscription service, according to a representative, though it does not plan to make the Webcast available until around 12 p.m. PDT Wednesday. Court TV Extra costs $6 a month.

ABC News also plans to make a streaming Webcast of the trial tapes available through its 24-hour broadband channel--which means that if people have the right setup, a representative said, they can watch the action on their cell phones. An ABC News Now subscription is $40 a year or $5 a month.

The indictment of former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic on war crimes charges was broadcast via television and on the Web in 2001, although with a 30-minute delay.