December 9, 2005
Saddam Belongs in a Glass Booth
WASHINGTON -- Of all the mistakes that the Bush administration
has committed in Iraq, none is as gratuitous and self-inflicted
as the bungling of the trial of Saddam Hussein.
Although Saddam deserves to be shot like a dog -- or, same thing,
like the Ceausescus -- we nonetheless decided to give him a trial.
First, to demonstrate the moral superiority of the new Iraq as
it struggles to live by the rule of law. Second, and even more
important, to bear witness.
trials are, above all and always, for educational purposes. This
one was for the world to see and experience and recoil from the
catalog of Saddam's crimes, and thus demonstrate the justice of
a war that stripped this man and his gang of their monstrous and
It has not
worked out that way. Instead of Saddam's crimes being on trial,
he has succeeded in putting the new regime on trial. The lead
story of every court session has been his demeanor, his defiance,
his imperiousness. The evidence brought against him by his hapless
victims -- testimony mangled in translation and electronic voice
alteration -- made the back pages at best.
become a platform for Saddam to show himself as a caged lion when
really he was a mouse in a hole,'' said Vice President Ghazi Yawar.
``I don't know who is the genius who is producing this farce.
It's a political process. It's a comedy show.''
been such judicial incompetence since Judge Ito and the O.J. trial.
We can excuse the Iraqis, who are new to all this and justifiably
terrified of retribution. But there is no excusing the Bush administration
that had Saddam in custody for two years, and had even longer
to think about putting on a trial that would not become a star
turn for a defeated enemy.
we given him control of the stage set? We all remember the picture
of him pulled out of his spider hole. That should be the Saddam
we put on trial. Instead, with every appearance, he dresses more
regally, emerging from cowering captive to ordinary prisoner to
dictator on temporary leave. Now he carries on as legitimate and
imperious head of state. He plays the benign father of his country,
calling the judge ``son,'' then threatens the judge's life. Saddam
shouts, defies, brandishes a Koran. The judge keeps telling him
he's out of order. He disobeys with impunity, the guards daring
not to intervene.
of message does that send to Iraqis who have been endlessly told
that Saddam and his regime were finished? ``The performance has
heartened his followers,'' writes The Washington Post's
Doug Struck from Baghdad. ``In Tikrit ... a large crowd of demonstrators
chanted their loyalty on Tuesday. Several marchers said they were
emboldened by his courtroom bravado.''
absurd. If anything, Saddam should be brought in prison garb,
perhaps in shackles, just for effect. And why was he given control
of the script? Saddam shouts, interrupts and does his Mussolini
histrionics unmolested. Instead of the press being behind a glass
wall, it is Saddam who should be. Better still, placed in a glass
booth, like Eichmann, like some isolated specimen of deranged
humanity, symbolically and physically cut off from the world of
normal human values.
he struts. And we are witness to a political test of wills between
the new Iraq represented by an as yet incompetent judicial system
and the would-be tyrant-for-life defiantly raising once again
the banner of Baathism, on a worldwide stage afforded him by
the Baathists who constitute the bulk of this Sunni insurgency
had no symbolic presence, no political platform, no visible leadership.
We have now given that to them, gratis.
Bush and his opponents in Congress are incessantly talking about
``benchmarks'' to guide any U.S. withdrawals from Iraq. But there
is one benchmark that is always left unspoken: We cannot leave
until Saddam is dead, executed for his crimes. No one will say
it but everyone knows it: As long as he is alive and well-dressed,
every Iraqi will have to wonder what will happen to him and his
family if Saddam returns. Only Saddam's death will assure them
that he will not return.
why the lateness of this trial is such a tragedy. And why its
bungling is such a danger. Our only hope, as always with Saddam,
is that he destroys himself with his arrogance and stupidity.
He has stupidly walked out of his own trial. This is our opportunity.
He should not be allowed back, certainly not without a glass booth.
Only Saddam can save us from our own incompetence. We should let
2005, Washington Post Writers Group