August 06, 2003

The Iraqi Press A key

The Iraqi Press

A key prerequisite for any sustainable democracy is the free flow of uncensored information. So the news that post-Saddam Iraq already has over 100 newspapers (along with unrestricted Internet access and the like) should be celebrated (the Coalition Provisional Authority did shut down one paper that advocated "(d)eath to all spies and those who cooperate with the U.S.")

And while I've overheard whispers here in Europe about the "brutish" handling of Saddam's sons-- here's what the newly unshackled Iraqi press is saying--written by people who were actually subjected to the monstrous whims of Uday and Qusay.

A sample:

"Yesterday, the Iraqis happily welcomed the death of the greatest symbols of evil, of torment and degradation of the Iraqi people╔ [v]ery few nations in the world suffered such humiliation [as Iraqis suffered] and abuse from those who, regretfully, died at the hands of the occupiers, while the Iraqi people were unable to stand face to face with those murderers and exact revenge from those savage executioners who engaged in abnormal terror against the whole nation, the army, a woman, a young woman, a young man, teenagers, innocent old men, and mothers who had tears on their cheeks during years of torture. Unfortunately there was no opportunity for millions of people to settle the accounts with the sons of Saddam Hussein who terrified the people and who practiced all kinds of savage torture against the weakest of Allah's creations╔ Despite all the rejoicing, we cannot help admitting that we wish we could have settled the accounts with Saddam's sons. This is the wish of every Iraqi." [my emphasis]

Given such sentiments, I say, better to catch Saddam alive, if possible, than to kill him in a firefight. A full-blown crimes against humanity style trial would serve a function similar to the Truth and Reconciliation Committee in South Africa or the war crimes tribunals for the former Yugoslavia in the Hague.

There is a deep hunger in Iraq for his myriad heinous crimes to be systematically detailed, enumerated, fully aired. This can only be done effectively if he is actually alive to stand trial.

In addition, such a trial might also help investigators and judges discover to what extent some so-called "moderate" Ba'athists might well have been relatively untainted by much of the endemic corruption and ruthless violence employed by many of Saddam's henchmen.

As Richard Joseph puts it in the FT (link immediately above):

"Ba'athists should not be allowed to serve in Iraq's government without preconditions. Those with the most complicity in the crimes of the old regime should be excluded. All others should be required to disavow armed struggle and commit to parliamentary practice and gradual reform."

Put differently, many Ba'athists (even relatively senior ones) may not have been significantly complicit regarding some of the most egregious aspects of Saddam's reign. And some of these individuals doubtless possess significant institutional knowledge and expertise that might help the Coalition Provisional Authority more expeditiously handle varied reconstruction tasks.

Given the mammoth costs of the reconstruction undertaking--any reasonable amnesty for "moderate" Ba'aathists should be considered with seriousness by Jerry Bremmer and his team. The faster the U.S. gets a self-governing, viable Iraqi polity up and running--the better. Not at the expense of bringing Saddam's cronies to justice, of course. But out of the 30,000 odd senior Ba'aathists I wager a good chunk of those were not culpable for war crimes, crimes against humanity, or other gross human rights violations. Regardless, a Saddam trial would help us get to the bottom of some of these issues.

Posted by Gregory at August 6, 2003 11:06 AM
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