Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Armchair Quarterbacking the Hussein Trial

The Seattle Times has a good summary culled from a variety of sources. (It also again mentions the point that Battlepanda made in reference to our discussion on Bosnia, about Shi'ite infiltration of the security services to carry out attacks on Sunnis.)

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.

Saddam was supposed to be a threat to his neighbors--the justification for war--but now he's on trial only for his domestic crimes. Is the US going to put Mubarak, Karimov and the Algerian generals in the dock next for their domestic massacres? Guess it is inconvenient that Saddam's use of weapons of mass destruction was against Iranians.
What does it matter how Hussein gets convicted? Al Capone went to jail for tax fraud but he is remembered as a murderer and brutal thug. Washington Realist, you need to avoid the trap Howard Dean fell into if you think the world isn't better off by having him captured and behind bars.
The point is not whether the world is "better off by having him captured and behind bars" or not. The point is holding him accountable for what we have accused him to the world of being guilty of. While the US will never, and should never, strive to rebut the many conspiracy theories that arise throughout the Middle East, we should think about the repurcussions of treating this as a DA would treat a mobster. Saddam Hussein, as an opposition figure to the US, still maintains some backing in the Middle East. If he can be stripped of this veil and shown as the tyrant he has been, perhaps people can begin to look towards leaders that will lead them towards a better society.
what is intresting to me is how america insisted on having milosevic sent to hague even though serb goverment would have tried him for crimes but because america wanted him to stand trial as war crimes figure even though this weaken democrats but for sake of pro-american iraqis saddam tried at home on lesser charges. again shows us doulbe standards
Thanks for all of the comments so far. It reminds me of a debate in my international organizations class at Georgetown at the time of Saddam's invasion of Kuwait. One group did not want action taken against Saddam if the UN was not going to take action against others who also had invaded and occupied land (e.g. against Turkey for Cyprus, China for Tibet and Israel for West Bank/Gaza), basically the "if you aren't going to right all wrongs then right none for consistency's sake." The second school of thought was the "you do what you can"--if you can win some go ahead and do it.

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.
Rummy was shaking hands with Saddam by 1983. If I'm not mistaken, he committed all his worst crimes when he was our S.O.B. and we were making sure he was provided with credit, weapons and tacit cover.

The hypocrisy might be lost on the American people, but unfortunately it won't be in the middle east.
Interesting that the BBC coverage of the trial has reached the same conclusion. John Simpson wrote: "But this trial has not so far become the overwhelming condemnation of Saddam's regime that might have been expected."
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