December 11, 2005

Another Weekend Query

Truism: Saddam was one of the worst monsters of the latter half of the 20th Century, up there with odious genocidaires like the Ratko Mladics, Radovan Karadzics, Pol Pots, and those behind the grotesque carnage in Rwanda. So why is he being tried under increasingly carnival-esque conditions, rather than more, er, orderly proceedings at an International War Crimes Tribunal at the Hague, and why is the indictment based solely on crimes resulting from one solitary village (140 men allegedly slaughtered in Dujail) rather than items like what Samantha Power called the Kurdish Hiroshima (Halabja) or the great crimes perpetrated to the Marsh Arabs? To be sure, it is anticipated further going forward indictments are to be issued covering these even greater and more horrid crimes. But there is also much talk that the Dujail bill of goods was chosen as it is much more easily provable, and that a hasty death penalty judgement might be applied before Saddam is tried for war crimes like Halabja too. But wouldn't this be unfair to his thousands and thousands of other victims, should it come to pass in this fashion? Let's think big, and air the entire panoply of crimes in organized, methodical manner before the international community. Not least, it would remind many that a true villain had been removed from power. Yes, yes: it's is good the Iraqis themselves are manning the trial, we are advised. Healing the society and such, giving them a sense of vindication and justice to boot. But that would be truer if there was more something of a South African style Truth and Reconciliation Committee in place, no? The list of crimes and horrors is voluminous enough to so warrant. Further, the imprimatur of an internationally publicized trial emitting from the Hague, with defense counsel not being murdered hither dither, and more judicious application of judicial processes, would prove an ultimately more beneficial process for Iraqi society, I dare say. There is nothing magic about having the proceedings take place in-country, in my view. Especially if the indictment was more wide-ranging than the one currently on tap, which would likely require more time devoted to developing comprehensive indictments via systematic compilation of evidence and the like. Can we put this trial too in the category of disorganized, poor decision-making by U.S. and Iraqi policy-makers? Or am I missing something? Comment below, particularly any public international lawyers out there...

Posted by Gregory at December 11, 2005 04:28 PM | TrackBack (0)

Can we put this trial too in the category of disorganized, poor decision-making by U.S. and Iraqi policy-makers?

in short, yes. The US overall refusal to recognize the authority of an established international war crimes tribunal system is at the heart of this debacle.

That being said, there is a third alternation that should have been considered -- a trial by an ad-hoc tribunal comprised of Arab and/or Muslim nations.

Posted by: lukasiak at December 11, 2005 05:33 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

It's not 'disorganized, poor decision making'.

It's a consequence of the total ideological hosility of this administration to all forms of international law.

It doesn't seem to me like this is a difficult trend to spot.

On the other hand, just to play devil's advocate, you can argue that Saddamn's quick execution at the hands of a chaotic semi-show trial run by his Shiite oppressors is a bone we needed to throw to the Shiites to keep them quiet. Of course, it's probably not true - if we'd had a clearly define plan to hand Saddamn over to the Hague, in Dec. 03 there was not enough organized political voice to object.

Of course, they don't execute people at the Hague. Honestly, I think it's fair to say that our President wanted Saddamn Hussein dead. I don't have a problem with that per se, but it would have been better to have shot him on the spot than to put him through a trial that is obviously trumped-up. That makes him an instant martyr.

Posted by: glasnost at December 11, 2005 06:31 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Greg: "...and why is the indictment based solely on crimes resulting from one solitary village (140 men allegedly slaughtered in Dujail) rather than items like what Samantha Power called the Kurdish Hiroshima (Halabja) or the great crimes perpetrated to the Marsh Arabs?"

It's been suggested that, in addition to the other reasons, this massacre was carried out before the US was buddying up to Saddam. Remember that the Reagan administration's position was to support him. It'd be embarassing when, after the prosecution detailed those chemical attacks, Saddam started listing the aid given by the US.

Posted by: Barry at December 11, 2005 06:49 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Barry, I hope you're wrong... I'd be embarrassed if our government steered the charges because we couldn't face up to what we did...

Posted by: just me at December 11, 2005 08:34 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

I agree with Barry. The crimes on trial and the evidence must be controlled because some of Saddam's later acts could reveal certain evidence not favorable to the US.

Second, I think there is some idea that holding the trial in Iraq brings legitimacy to the new government (such that it is). It's an image thing.

Also, in the Hague, there is more likely to an objective juroy that might buy into the notion that Saddam was merely crushing an insurgency -as has already been put forth - and that his actions in doing so were not any more brutal than any other power's in the same situation

Posted by: avedis at December 11, 2005 08:47 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

As I recall, BD has addressed this subject before, with much less ambiguity:

It's as if there has been a complete personality change on this site.

Posted by: JEB at December 11, 2005 09:11 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

JEB, the post which you've linked to was by Joseph Britt, who was guest-blogging here at the time.

Posted by: Dan Larsen at December 11, 2005 10:04 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

JEB, the post which you've linked to was by Joseph Britt, who was guest-blogging here at the time.

Posted by: Dan Larsen at December 11, 2005 10:08 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Barry mostly nails it. I would add that many of the characters running the country today (Cheney, Rumsfeld) were the same ones complicit with Saddam's activities back in the 1980s, so its not a generalized "buddying up to" that is the embarrassment, but a "buddying up to" lead by powerful officials within the current Bush administration...

Defineable connections between currently serving American officials and Saddam's crimes against humanity would be an embarrassment too far for these guys...

Posted by: James Emerson at December 11, 2005 11:18 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

I know The Guardian has a dreary reputation in some circles (Personally I think it's no more biased than the Independent or Telegraph), however they recently had a not too bad and, in my opinion, mostly correct article by Jonathan Steele. If you ignore the over-excited title/sub-title it's a decent read on the trial.,5673,1663453,00.html

This strikes me as particularly true in contrast with the drier trials of other war criminals and heads of state, "Evidence given for catharsis may not be enough for conviction."

Posted by: Shaun at December 12, 2005 01:30 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Here's another one agreeing with Barry: the Bush Admin's hostility to the idea of international law is enough right there to rule out a Hague trial.

And it's a pity, because it is important to air all of Saddam's crimes before a global tribunal - not only for the victims' sake, but also because that happens to be the way the world has dealt with crimes against humanity in the past. Crimes against humanity are crimes against humanity, not just against one nation. They strike at the very heart of legitimate sovereignty and concepts of civilization. They have to be tried by "humanity at large"; i.e., in an international tribunal.

Doing so also makes the trial itself more legitimate. It removes the trial from domestic politics and frees it as much as possible from the taint of being mere revenge. It's also a way of avoiding the inherent conflict of letting a war's victors being the ones who decide what crimes a war's losers committed - a conflict that can lead to all sorts of abuses, and delegitimize the proceedings. Say, for example, the victors' need a retroactive justification for a war they started for no good reason, or the victors' own track record is dreadful. (Imagine, for example, if Iran had invaded and occupied Iraq, and decided to try Saddam for "crimes against humanity." There would be no credibility to the charges, or to the trial.)

Finally, Saddam needs to get a fair trial, and be seen to have gotten a fair trial, for Iraq's sake. That's just not possible by trying him in Iraq.

One, the trial is being conducted under impossible conditions, with attorneys and judges and the accused being targeted for assassination. There is no way you can say this is a fair and impartial trial when the dramatis personae are under constant threat. Also, there seem to be no rules of evidence, no set procedural rules, and no discovery process.

Two, Iraq has a long history of illegitimate uses of political and judicial power. If Saddams trial continues to be a clown-show, it will do nothing to establish a legitimate, untainted, professional judicial system - in fact, it will do the exact opposite. Particularly in view of Iraq's ongoing sectarian disintegration, and the corruption/brutality of the post-Saddam regimes so far, Saddam's trial (and the inevitable conviction, and inevitable death penalty) will be seen in retrospect as just more of what was going on under Saddam.

The last standing rationale for the war is to establish some kind of stable, legitimate democracy or democratic republic. A legitimate, rule-governed, independent judiciary is a must. The most important trial to come out of the war (maybe the most important trial in Iraq's history) is a test of whether those norms can work in Iraq - and Iraq is nowhere near ready for that kind of challenge. Therefore, move the trial to an international venue.

Posted by: CaseyL at December 12, 2005 03:10 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Dan Larsen: Yes, I know. The "personality change" line was a joke.

Posted by: JEB at December 12, 2005 04:22 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Saddam killed more of his own people for longer than the evil men who murdered in the former Yugoslavia, which made him a candidate for removal on purely humanitarian concerns (whether his candidacy should have resulted in forcibal ejection from power, with all the incumbent risks, namely U.S. and Iraqi fatalities is another debate).

Saddam may have not killed as many people as did Hitler, Mao, Stalin, Pol Pot or the Hutus in Rwanda, but there's no doubt he would have wiped out the Kurds and Marsh Arabs, as well as any other opponets in full, as Mao and Stalin basically did and Hitler came close to doing. The reason he racked up the body count of the aformentioned figures is becuase of us -- a point that cannot be lost when examining the half-full charnel house of Baathist Iraq.

At the point where any government has violated the soverignty of the people by killing them en masse, the distinction between a thousand and a million murders becomes less important. A "Red zone" has been crossed when entering the territory of mass murder and genocide, anything past that line is a matter of degrees.

The trial of Saddam is an utter shame to his victims. This man is getting another stage after we kicked him off the first one to insult and make Iraq and the U.S. look stupid. He should be in a glass cage a la Eichmann. We're incredibly lucky to have a former dictator in the docket -- most have either died or escaped trial, like Pinochet. Iraq can show the world with Saddam front-and-center his crimes, and they've botched it.

The theatrics are distracting from the mass murder. We had enough distraction from those crimes, we don't need anymore with Saddam leading it.

The sooner this trial is over and Saddam is dead, the better.

Posted by: Radcliffe at December 12, 2005 06:08 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Larden? Who do you think Wilson is? Sheesh.

Posted by: Tommy g at December 12, 2005 08:46 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Yes, why couldn't Saddam have been given a civilized European trial?

You know, like Slobodan Milosevic, whose trial was perceived as so clean and fair that it got him honorarily elected to a parliamentary seat back home.

The record of "international law" in dealing with dictators like Saddam isn't terribly impressive.

And as for the notion that the U.S. is stage managing the trial to avoid damaging testimony about Saddam's U.S. support: critics of the invasion have been banging on about that support since before the war. That ship has sailed.

On the other hand, there is just as much reason to believe that a Hague trial would be compromised by the desires of European leaders to suppress any evidence of their more recent deals with Saddam in connection with the embargo and Oil-For-Food.

Posted by: Ofc. Krupke at December 13, 2005 06:20 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink
Reviews of Belgravia Dispatch
--New York Times
"Must-read list"
--Washington Times
"Pompous Ass"
--an anonymous blogospheric commenter
Recent Entries
English Language Media
Foreign Affairs Commentariat
Non-English Language Press
U.S. Blogs
Think Tanks
Law & Finance
The City
Western Europe
United Kingdom
Central and Eastern Europe
East Asia
South Korea
Middle East
B.D. In the Press
Syndicate this site:


Powered by