Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Judgement at the Green Zone

Today, is the day that a lot of people, especially many Iraqis, have been waiting for: the trial of Saddam Hussein. It is good to see a tryrant be brought to justice and yet there are some concerns about how the trial is going to be conducted. Some human rights groups are concerned if this will be a fair trial. Blogger Bull Moose seems to wave away some of these concerns:

Many have quibbled with the trial of Saddam Hussein. Some who normally promote the trial of war criminals, take offense with the perceived flaws in the Iraqi justice system. Some believe that it is a Shiite/Kurd vendetta against the Sunnis. Heaven forbid! Those populations have suffered immeasurably over the past twenty years and now some urge that we must be hyper-sensitive to not offend their former oppressors.

The souls of Halabja who died in agony must feel differently. The Marsh Arabs must be satisfied. The long suffering Kurds must get immense pleasure watching one of their own sit in judgment of Saddam. And progressives who stand with the oppressed should be pleased.

Well true, we should all be pleased that a bully is getting his just desserts, but don't we need to be concerned with making sure that we are applying justice on Saddam and not simply revenge?

One of the "quibblers," Human Rights Watch, has issued a report airing its concerns that the trial of the Arab dictator might not be viewed as fair. The problems includes:

• No requirement to prove guilt beyond reasonable doubt.
• Inadequate protections for the accused to mount a defense on conditions equal to those enjoyed by the prosecution.
• Disputes among Iraqi political factions over control of the court, jeopardizing its appearance of impartiality.
• A draconian requirement that prohibits commutation of death sentences by any Iraqi official, including the president, and compels execution of the defendant within 30 days of a final judgment.

It should also be noted that Human Rights Watch is not a lover of the former regime. They too want justice:

Human Rights Watch has spent years documenting the crimes of Saddam's regime and has repeatedly called for the perpetrators of these atrocities to be brought to justice. On the basis of our field research on the extermination of the Kurds, I spent a year in 1994 trying to persuade governments to bring a case of genocide against the Iraqi state. So we welcome efforts to investigate and prosecute former Iraqi leaders. But the evolution of the Supreme Iraqi Criminal Tribunal over the last two and a half years has given rise to serious concerns about its capacity to conduct fair trials.

So, why should people care about giving a fair trial to one of humanity's most heinous leaders?

Because how he is treated will affect the future of Iraq and the Middle East. If this trial is nothing more than a show trial or a way of getting back at Saddam or the Sunni minority, then there will be resentment among Sunnis and no chance for reconcilation and healing. Saddam may not deserve a fair trial, but if we want Iraq to a nation established under the rule of law, it has to be fair and impartial. If it follows the rule of established international law, then it will rob Sunnis of any chance to claim victimhood and hopefully move forward. Do it wrong, and it will only exacerbate ethnic tensions.

I think it's wrong for Bull Moose to assume that those who have some issue with how the trial is being conducted don't care about those who suffered immensely under Saddam. Groups like Human Rights Watch have worked hard to bring such atrocities to justice at a time when most of the world, including the United States were turning a blind eye. These people are passionate about bringing wrongdoers to justice, but they want it done in a way that is fair. They want to stress justice and not vengence.

I would feel better had Saddam been tried by some UN Court in the Hague, or if there was some UN/Iraqi hybrid court, but that isn't going to happen. In the end, a flawed trial is better than no trial at all.


At 1:14 PM, Blogger halfback jack said...

No matter the outcome (yeah, right...Saddam is going to be found innocent), the Middle East has been--and will be--a tinderbox for the next millenia. For worse or worst, WE (the US) are stuck there with no way out. For further information on the concept of "being stuck," see South Korea.

Eventually, Saddam WILL become a martyr to his followers.

At 10:13 PM, Blogger Brian said...

It's always tricky in such situations. I understand such concerns by HRW and completely agree. On the other hand, he'll still be seen by a martyr even if HRW's conditions are fulfilled (they should be fulfilled anyway on principle).

Earlier today, a teaser on a BBC World Service news show asked, "Saddam's trial: justice or humiliation?"

I remember thinking, "It's both."

For people like Saddam, justice IS a humiliation.

The more pertinent question is will Iraqis themselves see it as a humiliation of them as a nation.

At 7:50 AM, Blogger Shay said...

Most of the "concern" over Saddam Hussein's trial stems from socially liberal folks who are apologists for his past actions, and have sympathy for the old dictator. That's why so many liberal lawyers around the world flocked to be HIS attorney, while his victims still await such high-powered representation. The evidence is incontrovertible, and I won't shed tears on verdict day.


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