The Uneasy Justice of a Show Trial
Christian Merville of L'Orient-Le Jour considers yesterday's opening day of the trial of Saddam Hussein and discovers an irony:
One would not have too many qualms about sending the man, who yesterday stood before the members of the Iraqi Special Tribunal, to the firing squad. I am the President of the Republic he once shouted to US Marines, who twenty-two months ago came to pull him out of the rat’s hole where he had hidden for weeks. He made the same affirmation again several times today—even going so far as to question the Tribunal’s Chief Justice, the Kurd Rizkar Mohammed Amin, who was left speechless: Who are you? I want to know!, without taking the trouble to add, to judge me? Right off the bat, Saddam Hussein let it be know that he wanted his constitutional rights respected, that he recognized neither the authority behind the appointment of his judges nor the legality of the proceedings (“this aggression”) and that everything based on injustice is unjust itself. The executioner transformed into champion of the law, magistrates whose identities are kept secret “out of concern for their security”, the state’s attorney reduced to defendant in the space of an instant—all this gave the impression of being in a B-movie with a script written by Franz Kafka. But what do you expect? It’s hard, even belittling and humiliating for an entire nation to have forgotten that you were once the tyrant who for nearly a quarter-century lived in an ivory tower, besotted by praise, courted by the entire world—and yes, even by the Americans, who today are...—and pampered by his Arab peers.
Hardly had the trial been postponed until November 28th, following a grueling start, when courtroom observers began asking a number of questions. Of all the abominable crimes committed by the Baghdad régime, why choose to begin with the Dujail affair, where, on July 8, 1982 the village, 60 km from the capital, was razed to the ground after an ambush was set for the Presidential convoy of white Mercedes as it passed through the town? After all, there are more than 300 mass graves and nearly 300,000 victims which have produced a mountain of evidence weighing nearly 30 tons. The reason, I’m told, can be found in the fact that the ambush was laid by the men of al-Da‘wa al-Islamiyya, a Shi’ite opposition movement in which the current Iraqi Prime Minister, Ibrahim Jaafari, was a member. But even stranger, is the fact that the Iraqi Special Tribunal was created in 2003 while the country was still under the administration of L. Paul Bremer in virtue of a law issued during the era of Saddam Hussein which provided that the accused may be found guilty if the judges are satisfied of guilt instead of beyond all reasonable doubt as required in the US judicial system—and as Human Rights Watch has pointed out rather opportunely?
As the trial continues, this permits the defense to cite, in addition to the pressures exerted by the current authorities and equally sufficient as justifiable grounds for a motion of mistrial, a statement by Chief of State Jalal Talabani on the massacre of the Kurds during Operation Anfal—during which the chemical attack on Halabja was carried out in 1988—if only for this act, Saddam deserves the death sentence twenty times over. The defense lawyers could also bring up the fact that today’s postponement was motivated by the failure of the prosecution witnesses to show up—too frightened to take the stand—as Rizkar Amin pointed out in the most serious manner, just as Raadi Juhi, the judge hearing the case, spoke of re-summoning the witnesses, a delicate euphemism which barely masked an unspoken reality. But above all, there is the risk of seeing this trial deepen the divide, already enormous, between the Sunnis on once side and the Shi’ites and the Kurds on the other: Saddam is a hero because he fought the United States: his trial cannot begin as long as Iraq is occupied by the US Army. It’s true that this statement comes out of the mouth of a resident of Fallujah, a Sunni city par excellence, which has been standing up to Coalition forces for months. But this view is counterbalanced by countless statements coupled with hushed pressures which are violently hostile to the accused. Both sides cannot be ignored by the government and this should give the Pentagon generals, who are over-inclined to look at things through the wrong end of the telescope, pause to consider.
They tell me that Iraq’s former master loved to compare himself to the Caliph Abu Jaafar al-Mansour, the founder of the capital whose statue, which was blown up the day before the opening of the trial, adorned a square of the same name. Of course, any such comparison could only have existed in the mind of his distant and unworthy successor. It is undesireable, whether by error or by blunder, to make a hero out of someone who, after all, was only a hiccup in history. Too long a hiccup, to be sure, and too bloody.