Tuesday, November 29, 2005
Armchair Quarterbacking the Hussein Trial
My two cents on how I thought we should go about this is already a matter of public record, so I'm not going to revisit that here. But I think we should be concerned about several things:
1) Right now, Hussein is only charged with the 1982 massacre in Dujail. It's clear that of the entire possible bill of crimes, this was seen as the "safest". It is purely a domestic affair--it doesn't involve Iran and doesn't involve the gassing of the Kurds, both of which might have provided Hussein's defense team with the opportunity of calling a whole host of foreign witnesses to testify about overt and covert support for Hussein during the 1980s. But the "drib and drab" approach--if we don't convict Saddam for this, we'll come back with other charges, and eventually something will stick--means that there is unlikely to be the full accounting of the former regime's crimes in a reasonably expeditious manner. Imagine if, at Nuremburg, the top Nazi leaders had only been charged with the Lidice massacre or the slaughter at Malmedy, nothing else--I think that the impact of that tribunal would have been far less.
2) CBS News this morning had an interesting comment, that for most Iraqis, the trial is less important than questions of security, safety, jobs, whether the power is on. People may be watching the trial but my unscientific guess from my perch here in Washington is that it is not having a cathartic effect on Iraqi society. Shi'ites know Saddam is guilty and want him dispatched without wasting time on a judicial farce; Sunnis are never likely as a group to admit the legitimacy of the trial (always easier to simply say this is victor's justice) and for most Kurds what matters most is not the trial but whether Kurdistan's autonomy and possible independence is enhanced. Like the Kosovar Albanians, the Iraqi Kurds were better off in terms of their aspirations when the leader of the country from which they wanted to separate was an implacable foe of the United States. One of the great ironies may be that if the containment option had continued, keeping Saddam in his box, in a few year's time Kurdistan would have become a "fact on the ground."
3) What happens if the trial only ends with a decision about the Dujail massacre--in other words, if Hussein is condemned to death ONLY for those killings, without at least some judicial notice taken (and evidence presented) of his complicity in the deaths of thousands more--whether the gassed Kurds, the purged members of the Ba'ath party, etc. One of the most powerful tools for Holocaust/genocide deniers (in general or for those who deny the complicity of specific people) is to point to whatever discrepancies they can find. Although he later apologized for his claims, Croatian President Franjo Tudjman, for example, had previously claimed that no more than 900,000 Jews perished in Europe during World War II. Do we want current and future Hussein revisionists to say, "He was accused of killing tens of thousands--but all they could prove was this one case." It reminds me of the close of Michael Milken's trial when Judge Kimba Wood says that although claims were made that Milken had defrauded investors of millions, all she could document were losses in the hundreds of thousands of dollars only.
I think Tom's point hits the nail right on the head, but I'd use the mobster analogy again. It was not enough to convict mafia dons of crimes but also to delegitimize them in the eyes of the neighborhoods that looked up to them. The same thing has to happen in Iraq, I think.
The hypocrisy might be lost on the American people, but unfortunately it won't be in the middle east.