December 16, 2003


Try Saddam in an International Court (Kenneth Roth, International Herald Tribune, 15/12/03)

To do these victims justice, their plight should be recorded in a court of law and their perpetrators properly judged and punished. But the Iraqi Governing Council, taking its lead from Washington, last week established a tribunal that is to be dominated by Iraqi jurists. Despite the superficial appeal of allowing Iraqis to try their own persecutors, this approach is unlikely to produce sound prosecutions or fair trials. It reflects less a determination to see justice done than a fear of bucking Washington's ideological jihad against any further enhancement of the international system of justice. As we know from Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia, prosecutions of genocide or crimes against humanity can be enormously complex, demanding jurists of exceptional skill and sophistication. They require amassing volumes of official documents, collecting sensitive forensic evidence from mass graves, presenting hundreds of witnesses from among victims and accomplices, and paying scrupulous attention to the requirements of due process. To avoid being perceived as show trials or "victor's justice," they call for highly experienced jurists of unquestioned integrity. .Saddam's brutal and arbitrary justice system can hardly be expected to have produced such jurists. Prosecutions were typically based on confessions, often induced by torture. Serious criminal investigations, let alone complex trials, were virtually unheard of.

The Iraqi Governing Council hopes to solve this problem by looking to Iraqi exiles as well as Iraqis from communities historically repressed by the Baath Party who remained in the country. But even among these it will be difficult to find jurists with the right combination of skills and emotional distance from the former dictatorship to produce trials that are fair - and seen as fair. An internationally led tribunal would be a far better option, whether a fully international tribunal or, more likely, an internationally run tribunal with significant domestic participation, such as the special court set up for Sierra Leone. Because its personnel would be selected by the United Nations rather than by Washington's surrogates, an internationally led tribunal is more likely to be seen as legitimate. And because it can draw from a global pool of talent, it would be better able to secure the experienced and fair-minded jurists than a court that must look only to Iraqis. An internationally led tribunal could still conduct trials in Baghdad and involve Iraqis as much as possible, but it would be run by international jurists with proven records of overseeing complex prosecutions and scrupulously respecting international fair-trial standards. .Despite the obvious merits of an internationally led tribunal, Washington is adamantly opposed, which largely explains the path chosen by the Iraqi Governing Council. But Washington's opposition reflects its ideology, not concern for the Iraqi people.

Mr. Roth, Executive Director of Human Rights Watch in New York, has some interesting points. While it is certainly not their fault, Iraqis are little more than crazed, vengeful wogs and those American cowboys have no end of nasty ulterior motives. Besides, who ever heard of a competent American judge? No, we need international jurists. Never mind who they are or where they come from. In real life, they could be political hacks from Latvia or intellectually challenged Portuguese, but describe them as “international” and they become descendants of Solomon. Only they can provide the erudition and dispassionate justice that can guarantee that nice Mr. Hussein gets a fair trial. Only they have the patience and experience to sift through the thousands of documents we must digest before deciding whether he did anything wrong. Only they can decide the thorny question of whether being invaded “illegally” is a defense to genocide and mass torture.

And only they could orchestrate it into anti-American political theatre and actually let the scumbag off.

Buried in this specious and near libelous argument is the real reason–legitimacy. Legitimacy of what, you may ask. Don’t bother. It is the all-purpose abstract concept the left hauls out desperately to oppose American actions when it finds itself on the wrong side of the popular will and has run out of other reasons.

Posted by Peter Burnet at December 16, 2003 5:39 AM

What a strange and wonderful thing is the liberal mind.

Posted by: Chris at December 16, 2003 6:46 AM

So very true.

Still, I'm not sure but that righteous indignation is a big waste of emotional (and other) effort.

There are many more pressing matters at hand.

Let them make bloody fools of themselves on the world stage. Let them defend tyrants and mass murderers. Let them rant against the US and Bush.

There's always a chance that more and more will wake up and smell the coffee.

Posted by: Barry Meislin at December 16, 2003 6:56 AM

It's good to see that the confusion of procedure with justice is not just an American trait. Marching him out into the square, kneeling him down and putting a bullet into his head is lousy procedure, but perfect justice.

Posted by: David Cohen at December 16, 2003 7:26 AM


You are right, but any procedural defects could be cured by following the Romanian model with Ceausescu. Give him a one hour trial and shut him down when he starts ranting. Then on to the public square.

Posted by: Peter B at December 16, 2003 8:00 AM

The unspoken hope of people like Roth is that, if Saddam were taken to an international court, the trial itself would turn into not just a judgment of Hussein, but of George W. Bush and U.S. foreign policy in Iraq and the world in general. That's not going to happen if the trial is done by either Iraqi or American courts, so thereford it's not a legitimate trial setting in their eyes.

Posted by: John at December 16, 2003 8:12 AM

Re: 3 Kuwaitis, 2 Iranians, and a Pole.

Where is the Israeli member? Or did you forget all the unprovoked Scud attacks in 1991?

I'd actually prefer the 300,000 Iraqi mothers, each with a pocketful of stones.

Posted by: Biased Observer at December 16, 2003 9:55 AM

Israel could not be included because that would open another can of worms (even though they have been victims of his proxy war crimes through the Palestinians for a decade).

But how about a judge from each country in the coalition? That's a lot of folks, but perhaps use them as judicial observers and let a few coalition countries and Iraqis do the real job.

But whatever happens, don't televise the darn thing!

Posted by: NKR at December 16, 2003 11:49 AM

Silly me. Here I've thought all these years that the purpose of a trial is to establish the facts, and to hand out a proper punishment.

Perhaps the advocates of an international tribunal (or any other circus-like venue) can, in advance, tell us which facts are in dispute about Mr. Hussein's actions and which need to be clarified before he is given a proper punishment for the crimes he has committed.

Posted by: Raoul Ortega at December 16, 2003 12:56 PM

My students response to it all ran the gamut of what to do to punish him...from, "Let's hang him by his toenails and poke him with a sharp stick," to, "We should let him rot in jail while thinking about what he did to all those people."

Posted by: Bartman at December 16, 2003 2:46 PM

Do I have this straight? The Iraqis are a fully competent, independent people who must be given control of their own affairs immediately; and the Iraqis are incapable of even trying a criminal for the simple crime of open murder?

It is certainly true that it requires sophisticates to run a trial of a mass murderer over two years and then hand down sentences that average 14 minutes jail time per killing. Simple rednecks like myself couldn't manage that.

Posted by: Harry Eagar at December 16, 2003 2:51 PM

Druge had a report I meant to link, but now can't find that in '92 the Israelis had a plan to kill Saddam. His father-in-law was terminally ill and Israeli intelligence reported that Saddam would attend the funeral in person. The Israelis developed a plan to have Special Forces parachute in, set up a few miles from the funeral and launch missiles that we programmed to home in on the color of Saddam's uniform.

The mission was scrubbed after they launched a live missile during a training session that killed five commandos acting as Saddam and his entourage. I'm not sure whether to be admiring, rueful or afraid.

Posted by: David Cohen at December 16, 2003 3:37 PM

Why not do both? He could be tried in an Iraqi court, Hanged, and then sent to the Hauge or Geneva where they could take their sweet time and not have to deal with the death penalty issue.

Posted by: Robert Schwartz at December 17, 2003 6:45 PM

This part is very telling:

"To avoid being perceived as show trials or "victor's justice," they call for highly experienced jurists of unquestioned integrity. .Saddam's brutal and arbitrary justice system can hardly be expected to have produced such jurists. Prosecutions were typically based on confessions, often induced by torture. Serious criminal investigations, let alone complex trials, were virtually unheard of. "

How does Roth know that these potential jurors were tortured? Saddam hasn't been tried yet, he don't know that these tortures took place. They are alleged tortures.

Posted by: Robert D at December 19, 2003 1:23 AM
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