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The Capture and Trial of Saddam Hussein

by Brian Risman, Publisher and Founder, The Law Journal UK

Saddam Hussein has been captured. How to try him? The options are many -- but the right choice must be made for the world to see a fair trial, rule of law and due process.

Literally overnight, the surprise capture of Saddam Hussein has precipitated a storm of controversy -- not about his capture, but rather the methods, means and venue of his trial.


First, the world owes a debt of gratitude to the U.S. Forces that effected the capture of this bloody tyrant. While the justification for the Iraq invasion by the U.S., U.K. and its other partners was questionable -- namely the existence (or rather no longer existing) weapons of mass destruction -- the attempts by the coalition to bring peace to Iraq and destroy the tyrant regime deserve full credit.


In particular, George W. Bush has in recent weeks shown considerable political acumen -- first, with the surprise visit on the U.S. Thanksgiving holiday to the U.S. troops, which improved not only morale of the troops, but also his standing at home; and second, with the well-executed capture of Saddam Hussein. The Democrats may have problems unseating him in the 2004 election -- but of course, 11 months is a long time in politics.


Now to the trial.


There is little doubt that Saddam Hussein should be tried for his crimes against humanity and genocide. Humanity, to show its humanity, must try this monster.


However, there is a major issue regarding who should try Saddam. The choices are as follows: First, an American military court; second, an Iraqi court; and third, an international court.


Trial by an American military court would produce poor optics. First, such an action would shut out other allies. Second, the trial would seem to the world to be as unfair as Saddam's kangaroo courts. That is not to say American justice is unfair. In fact, the U.S. has a highly respected court system. Nonetheless, optics are optics, and perception becomes reality.


Trial by an Iraqi court would allow Iraqis to get revenge for the years of horror. And Iraqis deserve to get revenge. However, revenge is not the basis of a fair trial -- due process is. Those who say that there should not be an Iraqi trial due to the inability of Iraqis to administer a fair trial are in effect justifying Saddam's actions. For if Iraqis cannot act in a civilised manner, then it can be said that all they deserve is an uncivilised leader to dictate to them. Iraqis must therefore be given the opportunity to operate with due process.


Trial by an International court is attractive to the international community. After all, the world would want to see, and to participate, in the trial of this creature. Moreover, it would generate support for the Iraqi operation by foreign governments, since it would give that operation true international credibility -- something that the invasion did not. However, there are problems with an international trial. First, the length of time involved in such a trial; second, the humiliation of the new Iraqi government, struggling for credibility, by not trusting them with the prosecution of a trial. Third, the optics in the Arab world of Westerners trying an Arab leader. Finally, the bane of all international organisations, namely power politics, could overwhelm the court..


From the above, all three options are problematic. But there is a fourth combined option that would work.


That option is an Iraqi trial with due process, with guidance by an International committee of esteemed jurists. In this way, Iraqis would try Saddam; the new government would gain credibility by being trusted  with due process; the Arab world would see the first fair trial by Arabs of an Arab leader, promoting democracy in the face of fundamentalism. And the world would have input into the Iraq situation, creating world support for the result.


This situation, this trial, is in fact a turning point for the world. A mistake in venue, as noted above, could undo all the gains made so far. A proper approach would promote democracy, the rule of law, and due process. The good news is that this issue is already being debated. Let's ensure that the issue is resolved with the greatest benefit for humanity.


Your thoughts?


Brian Risman


Here is a response from a reader in New Zealand -- thank you for writing!


With an apology for the contents here, I could summarize my thoughts in one sentence:
Dictators are not born, they are made.
Those who pressure others to the extent as Hussein was, by manipulation or bribery, are as guilty as the executor, which led to the massacre of millions, let us not forget the system of embargos, where more millions die. What is the difference?
If Hussein is tried, let him be tried in an International Court, where any body called to testify or to be judged will have to comply. But not like in Milosevic case where many were exempt...
By Hussein being judged in Iraq, there are more chances that the briberies and manipulations from foreign powers(even from the not so innocent Kuwait who was siphoning Iraqi OIL in a clandestine manner and thus prorogued the leaders of Iraq to retaliate) will go unheard, thus the briberies will continue until another leader will recur to more terrorism and random killing, while the world has gone to its daily living and slumber; suddenly is awaken by another catastrophe and charging all the guilt to the unnoticed real victims, nice one! 
Who can say the contrary now, when the blood of many is still warm in their graves, that all the fanfare of the war was not for the distribution of OIL? The plot really worked did it not? WMD? Yeah right! In a nutshell, Iraq will always be what it is until it has consumed all of its black gold, then it will become another miserable corner on Earth, not even its monumental ancient relics will attract, not many can swallow that Iraq has more history than USA or Europe put together! It will end like the heart of India is today! Iran will follow, as it is a great producer of iron...? I mean we need weapons do we not? Yes I am sarcastic. Sorry. Wolfowitz will find the way to encourage The Pentagon towards another game of chess....
Problem is I have my eyes open, many do. At least I can understand what is going on, it is terrible not to know and be duped. 
I wonder if soon WMD will be found in another 'spider hole' in Iraq with a "Made in USA' label :) Sorry I have lost my trust in the once upon a time a real great country.
I love Americans, I detest their leaders...
From a proud New Zealand, who knows better, and whose leader had no fear to say "NO!" in the eyes of human justice, rather than bow to one not so much Divine...
Elsa L.
Merry Christmas, I hope you and all your countrymen can sleep in peace :)

A different stance from a reader from the United States:

An international trial is stupid we caught him our men died we should give him hell for what he did to our troops in Iraq and Kuwait . The UN did not help us they should not have any say in it.

Diane T.

From a European reader:

With Europe banning execution, what good is a death penalty?
A public execution with a slow death and recording his screams.
No long term trial with numerous delays. Execute him while it
is still fresh, what a nice guy he is.


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