Recent Trials of Heads of State
The opening in Baghdad of the trial of Saddam Hussein is the most recent in a series of trials of former heads of state judged for their crimes during their years of in power.
PAPADOPOULOS - George Papadopoulos, leader of the Colonels’ Junta (1969-1974) was found guilty and condemned to death in 1975 for high treason. His death sented was commuted to life in prison, where he died in 1999.
ARGENTINIAN DICTATORS: Found guilty of multiple homicide and torture, General Jorge Videla and Admiral Emilio Massera were sentenced to life in prison. General Roberto Viola got 17 years in prison in 1985 at the end of a lengthy trial against the leaders of the 1976-1983 military dictatorship in Argentina during which 30,000 people were murdered or “disappeared”. The generals were all pardoned in 1990.
MENGISTU HAILE MARIAM. In power from 1974 to 1991, Mengistu has been on trial for the last ten years in abstentia for his role in the Red Terror, a period during which the Red Negus (Amharic for emperor) had tens of thousands of Ethiopians executed or "disappeared". He has been in exile in Zimbabwe since the fall of his regime.
CEAUSESCU – Romanian President Nicolae Ceausescu, overthrown in December 1989 after holding absolute power for 24 years, was executed for genocide, destruction of property and destruction of the national economy.
POL POT: Saloth Sar, known as Brother Number One, responsible for the death of nearly two million people during the Khmer Rouge reign of terror in Cambodia(1975-1979), was arrested, tried for treason and sentenced to life in prison by his former comrades during a people’s trial in 1997. He died in April 1998.
MILOSEVIC – Removed from power in October 2000, arrested in Belgrade in April 2001 and transferred to The Hague, former Yugoslavian President Slobodan Milosevic has been on trial since February 2002 before the International Criminal Court for genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity durng the conflicts with Croatia, Bosnia and Kosovo. He is the first head of state to be tried by the Court.
PINOCHET – Former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet has escaped trial. Charges filed against him in December 2004 for the murder of political opponents during Operation Condor have since been dropped (September 2005). However, his immunity has been lifted for his role in Operation Colombo, the 1975 execution of Chilean Leftist militants.
CHARLES TAYLOR – Liberian ex-President Charles Taylor, exiled to Nigeria in August 2003, has escaped justice. Charged by a special United Nations tribunal in Sierra Leone, Taylor must stand trial for crimes committed during the 1991-2001 civil war which killed 300,000 people. However, despite international pressure, Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo has refused to extradite him.
Like Pinochet, many of Saddam's crimes were committed with a wink from if not the support of the United States--and its Arab allies. Last week, I heard King Abdallah of Saudi Arabia refer to the war which we fought in reference to the First Persian Gulf War. The Shi'ites and the Kurds certainly was the death sentence for Saddam because of the persecution of which they were victims. But external political exigencies will likely either lead to his exile or his incarceration for life.