Patrick Crewdson - sympathiser, Auckland

Friday, July 16, 2004

The Trial of Saddam H

As you will have read in the funny pages, Saddam Hussein is kind of on trial in Iraq.

At what was basically his depositions hearing he was charged with crimes including invading Kuwait, gassing Kurds, and going to war with Iran. Diversion is not available, m'lud.

Of course, it's a lovely gesture for the US to send him home to be tried (although he's actually being held in Qatar). A gesture is all it is though. We'll give him a fair trial and then we'll hang him. The New York Times said Saddam's trial is "likely to be one of the most riveting, complex and potentially controversial legal proceedings ever carried out on the world stage". It's likely to be a complete sham is what it is.

The Washington Post thinks the trial is going to cause a bit of bother:
... This is no "slam-dunk" case. Following the practice of other dictators, Saddam Hussein probably left no paper trail connecting him to his regime's blatant crimes. During his arraignment he immediately denounced the court: "Everyone knows this is theater by Bush the criminal." If that is any indication of what is to come, this could be a difficult trial for judges and prosecutors with little experience of international law, or even of proper trials, to control.
I think that's either naive or wilfully stupid. Lack of hard evidence and inexperience with international law notwithstanding, the real question is: can you imagine Saddam Hussein being acquitted?
Alternative scenario: Saddam walks

Open to all the world's media, the trial of Saddam Hussein is high drama. Under cross-examination it transpires that Saddam has been the victim of a hilarious case of mistaken identity. Of course, the story's pretty wacky, so to start with no one believes him. But as he explains we realise he's just a good kid who got in over his head. It turns out that one of Saddam's doubles has actually been committing all the atrocities (as well as racking up a substantial debt at Tikrit's best video library), while the real Saddam has been frantically chasing after him, trying to right all his wrongs.
"I didn't gas the Kurds at Halabja," Saddam insists. "It was that other guy."
Commentators and pundits point out that it's just like the time Calvin used his cardboard box machine to make copies of himself so the new versions could do homework while he hung out with Hobbes and read comics. Except Calvin never invaded Kuwait.
Essentially, the challenge for the US Administration and the Iraqi Special Tribunal is to find a politically satisfying way to convict Saddam, not to find the evidence or the expertise to try him fairly. Now, I'm certainly not saying he's innocent. I think there's widespread agreement that he's guilty of the crimes he's accused of (even if he had tacit or overt Western support for some of the atrocities). And a certain measure of sheriff-style justice is to be expected in the trials of former national leaders. It's not as though Milosevic could possibly see a not guilty verdict either (providing his trial isn't called off due to ill health, that is). Back to the Washington Post (who I agree with this time):
Trials of former war criminals and ex-dictators must balance the demands of politics against the demands of justice, the need for promptness against the need for deeper reflection.
Saddam's trial is a special case though (weak legal pun not intended), because of how it looks set to be run, sans media scrutiny. What's the point of having a trial when it can't be a fair one because the outcome is predetermined and it can't even be a good show, because of heavy media censorship?

Even if we don't get to see it, we can take a good guess at how this trial is going to end. The death penalty was suspended in Iraq after the Coalition of the Willing invaded, but there's talk of reinstating it. So depending on which way the political winds blow, Saddam is either facing execution or multiple life sentences in Baghdad Central Remand with no possibility of parole. To pretend otherwise, or to say that his trial actually matters as a legal exercise, is dangerously disingenuous.
Update - A suggestion from Matt:
Saddam will be imprisoned in Camp Redemption, where he will be redeemed after first being broken. Unless Bush demolishes the place first (which he tried to do before military lawyers politely informed him it was a crime scene) - probably with Saddam inside.