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.
Here is a response from a reader in New Zealand -- thank you for writing!
A different stance from a reader from the United States:
From a European reader:
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