October 22, 2005
Saddam Disposal

By David Warren

It took 22 months to drag Saddam Hussein all the way from his hidey hole to an Iraqi court, to stand trial. It took 15 years, counting from his invasion of Kuwait; 17 dating from the gassing of Kurds in the village of Halabja; 25 from his invasion of Iran; 26 since he overthrew his political mentor, Ahmad el-Bakr; 37 since he participated in the bloodshed that brought the secular-socialist Baath Party definitively to power; 46 since an earlier less successful bloodbath; and 49 since he first participated in a scheme of political murder. Here is a man of 68, who should have been hanged before his 20th birthday. Today, at last, he stands trial.

I see that the New York Times is raising objections to the narrowness of the charges against Saddam. The paper that declared, in its headlines, a “mixed result” when Iraqis went in unprecedented numbers to the polls in their Constitutional Referendum on the weekend, has equipment to find a fly in any ointment. Ditto, the entire community in the West, which I characterize as “gliberal and leftoid”. It is a mark of the intellectual and moral squalor of their whole outlook on life.

Yes, this is not a trial at an International Tribune in The Hague. It is an Iraqi trial, for an Iraqi malefactor. This is partly the reason for the narrowness of the charges. This, and the political pressure to get it over with -- for Saddam is, in his surviving person, a continuing taunt to the new Iraqi state, and an inspiration to the terrorists of the Sunni Triangle. My impression is that the great majority of Iraqis would have been pleased to see a trial along the lines of that offered to Romania’s despotic Nicolae Ceausescu. Which is to say, no trial; just establish the man’s identity and blow him away.

For how do you try a man for crimes committed in the witness of many millions of people? Whom do you choose for a jury?

This was the problem the allies faced at Nuremberg. International diplomacy at that time -- with its need to appease Russian Communist allies who had themselves committed crimes against humanity on the Nazi scale -- led to a great deal of cant and hypocrisy in the proceedings. The whole tradition of “war crimes trials” descends from that lamentable exercise, in which a show trial was staged combining a little slapped-together law with a lot of theatrical propaganda.

Which is not to say surviving members of the Nazi high command did not merit execution. The danger was not miscarriage of justice to them. The danger is rather to the whole conception of law, when criminal trials are made to subserve diplomatic and political exigencies.

By comparison to Nuremberg, or to the endless farcical spectacle of Slobodan Milosevic on trial at The Hague (which has dragged on for nearly four years, and will drag on for perhaps another five, in the current estimation of the chief U.N. prosecutor), the trial of Saddam will be a model of criminal justice. It will establish Saddam’s guilt beyond reasonable doubt for a handful of capital crimes, and then, with any luck, hang him high. That will achieve some “closure”, even for the several million surviving relatives of the victims of Saddam’s mass-murders. (The body count in mass graves dug up in Iraq since the allied invasion now exceeds 450,000, and more such graves continue to be discovered every week.)

It is a miracle that Iraq is in a position to conduct this trial, along conventional criminal-court lines. To appreciate this miracle, it is worth recalling the speed with which a democratic constitutional order has been created. For Iraq has, with the success of Saturday’s ballot, just set the record for fastest democratic constitution after a U.S./allied invasion.

Japan was technically faster, but that constitution was imposed (one year, three months after the surrender).

France was arguably faster, in 1946 (two years, four months after the Normandy invasion), but the French Fourth Republic was abortive, so we should really count 14 years, four months to the Fifth Republic in 1958.

Italy can claim two years, seven months, for a tie with Iraq, but that's counting from Victory Europe. Counting instead from the first allied landings in Sicily, it was well over four years.

Germany did four years even, counting from V.E. Day.

Counting from the Declaration of Independence, the USA itself clocked in at 11 years, two months, from "self-invasion" to a democratic constitution.

Another comparison, on progress against the Iraqi insurgency. On the day of the Iraqi provisional elections last January, there were 347 terror attacks, in which 44 were killed. During Saturday’s poll, for which almost all the security was Iraqi-supplied, there were 13 attacks, and only three dead (all of them Iraqi soldiers, from one roadside bomb).

The whining is a malicious pose. God bless Iraq! And, God bless America!

Copyright 2005 Ottawa Citizen

David Warren

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