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Justice for a Despot By: Michael Radu
FrontPageMagazine.com | Thursday, December 18, 2003


Within hours of news of Saddam Hussein’s capture, the global human rights establishment (HRE) had started its campaign on his behalf, in the name of “international justice.” Its representatives tell us that the Iraqis are too primitive to assure a fair trial for their tormentor, unless, that is, “international experts” (the HRE of course) run it.

No Political Show Trial for Saddam Hussein; International Expert Participation Key to Trial, pontificates Human Rights Watch (www.hrw.org). “Give Saddam Prisoner of War status,” demands Amnesty International. “The Iraqi Governing Council should partner with the UN to create an accountability process that works,” said HRW’s Kenneth Roth. “There won’t be a second chance to do this right.” He is right. That’s why we may be glad that President Bush is calling for a public trial in Iraq. Because the Iraqis and the United States have a great opportunity to demonstrate the vacuity of the much-trumpeted “evolving international law” on human rights.

By all standards, Saddam Hussein is one of the worst mass murderers of recent times – not an “alleged” or “suspected” murderer. If he does not belong in the company of Stalin, Mao, or Hitler, it is only because there were not enough Iraqis to kill to put him in this first rank. HRW’s likening of a trial that has not even begun yet – the Iraqis’ trial of this tyrant – to Stalin’s show trials of the 1930s is absurd. It casts Saddam’s victims in the Stalin role. It is Saddam, not they, that are in that role here. As even HRW admits, his crimes include genocide against Iraqi Kurds, the use of chemical weapons against Iranian troops and Kurdish civilians, large-scale killings after the failed 1991 uprisings, destruction and repression of the Marsh Arabs; and the forced expulsion of ethnic minorities in northern Iraq.

Amnesty supports a “fair trial” for Saddam, but obsessively defines “fair trials” as those that do not involve capital punishment. (Democratic presidential candidate and former general Wesley Clark might wish to note this. He continues to call for Osama bin Laden, if captured, to be tried for 9/11 by the recently formed International Criminal Court, “under international law with an international group of justices. . . Remember, 80 other nations lost citizens in that strike on the WTC. It was a crime against humanity, and he needs to be tried in international court.” Obviously Gen. Clark has no idea what the ICC is – that like Amnesty, it is anti-capital punishment – or what it could do. It cannot try terrorist crimes, since terrorism as a crime does not exist under “international law,” and it cannot try cases involving events that occurred before it was founded in June 2002 .)

In all events, let us suppose that the HRE “standards” are applied by the Iraqi court trying Saddam. The court would include “international experts” – i.e., European jurists who are opposed to capital punishment. Notwithstanding that Iraq is an Arab country with specific cultural and legal traditions quite different from those of Belgium or Sweden. How would a verdict (life sentence?) from such a tribunal serve such basic principles of jurisprudence as deterrence and punishment to fit the crime in a way that would satisfy Iraqis? It would not. It would only serve as another example of Western imperialism, especially for those Iraqis who were victimized by Saddam. Of course, the readily available targets for retaliation will not be Swedish or German human rights lawyers, but U.S. and coalition troops.

Based on our experience to date with international courts, after a trial of months or years (Yugoslavia’s Slobodan Milosevic has been on trial before a UN international tribunal for more than a year and is now running for office in Serbia, and the UN tribunal in Rwanda’s 17 convictions over nine years have cost $80 million a year), Saddam would be found guilty and sentenced to life or many years in prison. Then what? Is the Iraqi government supposed to keep him in isolation, which would earn it the condemnation of the HRE? Or allow him his “rights” according to the HRE, and thus the ability to plot a return to power?

If Saddam Hussein is tried and found guilty of genocide, mass murder, and crimes against humanity, he deserves no less than Adolph Eichmann received: the Israeli law against execution in general notwithstanding, Eichmann was executed. Nor are more recent and relevant precedents lacking – in August 3, 1979, Francisco Macias Nguema, self – proclaimed President for Life and “Only Miracle” of Equatorial Guinea, was executed by a Moroccan firing squad, after being overthrown a few months before in a military coup. At the time of the capture, Macias, who murdered a third of his country’s population and forced another third into exile, was in possession of most of the country’s treasury. The trial took place in the capital, with observers from Amnesty International, etc. Arrested in December 24, 1989, Romania’s communist dictator Nicolae Ceausescu, “the genius of the Carpathians,” and his wife Elena, were tried the following day by a military tribunal, found guilty of “genocide”, sentenced to death and shot.

Why the Iraqi Governing Council suspended capital punishment is unclear, and was probably misguided, but the Iraqis have the natural right to lift that suspension. The sooner they do, and the sooner Saddam is tried and executed, the better. An ideal Baghdad court would be composed of five judges – a Shia, a Kurd, a Marsh Sunni, a (secular) Iranian, and a Kuwaiti. The longer Saddam lives, the more Iraqis and Americans are going to die – and that, more than utopian “evolving international standards” or AI anti-capital punishment paranoia, should be decisive.

Michael Radu is Senior Fellow and Co - Chair, Center on Terrorism and Counterterrorism, at the Foreign Policy Research Institute in Philadelphia.


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