With the obvious brutal treatment of downed allied fliers by Iraq, Saddam Hussein already has violated three articles of the Geneva Convention on the treatment of prisoners of war.

In threatening to use POWs as human shields at potential targets, he is on the verge of violating two other provisions of the same convention to which Iraq had agreed.So there's ample reason for the current talk about putting Saddam on trial as a war criminal if he is ever caught.

Indeed, there is justification for such a war trial apart from Iraq's mistreatment of POWs.

One justification is the violation of international law that occurred when Iraq fired missiles into civilian areas of Israel, a non-combattant in the current war. Another justification is the way Saddam ordered or let his troops murder, rape, pillage and loot in Kuwait.

Nowhere in recent years have the barbarities of war been more sickening than in Kuwait, where reports of Iraqi invaders tearing premature babies out of their incubators last August should have stirred the world's collective conscience.

These outrages violate specific provisions of international law. Consequently, Saddam should if possible be brought to justice before an international war crimes tribunal.

Such violations cannot be ignored without setting back the rule of law. By the same token, if Saddam suffers the fate he deserves, other potential aggressors would be given an extra reason to pause and reconsider before pouncing.

If lawyers in the nations composing the international coalition arrayed against Iraq aren't already preparing a legal case against Saddam Hussein, they should start now.