June 30, 2004

Saddam's Trial Must Be Fair

There is no doubt about Saddam's guilt. He did control Iraqi forces that committed genocide and murder, and is reported to have personally killed scores of people. Saddam's death squads summarily executed thousands of people including many Kurds who were gassed in Hallabja. He deserves to be punished and the victims deserve to see justice.

The responsibility for his trial and subsequent punishment has now passed to the Iraqi provisional government. Presumably the Americans are very keen for 'Iraqi' justice to be seen to be done. This justice will no doubt end in Saddam being executed - even though the Iraqis had initially requested the death penalty be abolished as it was "Saddam's way".

Having said all that, the last thing that is needed is a show trial with limited witnesses called and guilty verdict assumed before it even begins. If justice (i.e. execution) is to be handed out by the Iraqi provisional government, it must be fair and cover the full period of Saddam's regime. Of course, this would imply delving into the American's murky past - when they were Saddam's best friend and provided him with money, weapons and intelligence.

It is hard to see how the Iraqis can be both the victim and the judge, jury and probable executioner. The fairest trial would be one in the International Court in the Hague - exactly what the Americans don't want because they cannot control the proceedings and outcome. In ensuring that 'Iraqi' justice prevails they can control the what witnesses are called, what questions are asked and the eventual penalty dished out. Don't expect to see Rumsfeld - Saddam's best friend in the 1980s - in court, even though he has a number of major questions to answer and probably be a key part of Saddam's defence.

The outcome - guilty of war crimes and crimes against humanity - would almost certainly be the same no matter the venue but the legitimacy of the proceedings would be far greater, and the depth of the investigation far deeper, if the trial were held internationally.