Let’s Show Saddam American Justice?

Showing Saddam Hussein “Justice American style” sounds a bit like a John Wayne boast.

But, as part of the Administration’s PR effort, President Bush says we’re showing Saddam and all of Iraq American justice by our exemplary treatment of the ex-Iraqi dictator.  The United States says that we’re going to turn Saddam et al over to Iraqi-run tribunals and let the evil doers be judged by their fellow countrymen. 

Sounds good, eh?  Let the Iraqi people who suffered under Saddam convict him of his crimes.  I suspect the Administration thinks the Iraqis will execute Saddam as punishment. But, that, of course, would be an independent decision reached by those we liberated.

But, setting up a foreign institution to do your bidding is a difficult task.  “It’s a hard job,” to re-purpose Mr. Bush’s campaign-time description of why he has faltered in leading the clean-up in Iraq.  In this case, the foreign court system is simply not up to the task of conducting an “innocent until proven guilty” trial for the Iraqi butcher.

There’s a problem getting an Iraqi court following American rules to convict Saddam of his actions, according to one of the more interesting points in William Langewieche’s article in this month’s Atlantic.  What Saddam did was not against Iraqi law when he committed the “crimes”.  The Iraqi constitution gave their president (Saddam) complete immunity for acts he committed while in office.

We don’t want Saddam to go free, and there’s a lot of international law which would allow a multi-lateral tribunal (or, even a tribunal of the war victors: US) to try and convict Saddam for his horrible deeds.  But, President Bush has not headed down that path.  He wants to turn Saddam over to the Iraqis, wash our hands of responsibility (credit?), and say that America stands for independent trials.

Excuse me, President Pilate (although Saddam is no Savior).  If the Iraqi tribunal follows American standards, and if the Iraqi laws in place when Saddam committed his bad acts said that whatever he did was legal, then Saddam goes free.  The United States Constitution expressly forbids ex post facto laws.  Any tribunal run on American principles of civil justice cannot convict that horrible man Saddam today for technically legal (if grossly immoral) acts he did in the past.

Yeah, sure, this is a legal nit. Letting Saddam go is not reasonable.  Releasing him is not an acceptable outcome. But the American justice system serves us well because defendants — even the certifiably evil ones — are protected by the legal nits and unreasonable rules.

For Saddam, though, the United States has to stop the double talk.  We cannot pretend we’re letting the “free people of Iraq” run the tribunal according to Iraqi law and American justice standards.  We cannot — and should not — wash responsibility for the permanent removal of Saddam from our hands.

The fiction of a fair, impartial trial  for Saddam and his cohorts according to Marquis of Queensbury Rules isn’t credible.  In addition to the ex post facto issue in Saddam’s case, Langewieche’s article talks about the guarantee of inadequate counsel for all of the accused former Iraqi officials.  Their lawyers do not have access to talk with them, and the attorneys are threatened with death if they mount a reasonable defense.

In any event, turning Saddam over to an Iraqi trial isn’t needed for its PR value. After World War II, the trials at Nuremberg were forthright and powerful.  The world understood what was going on — it was more  than the victor knocking off the leaders of the vanquished.  Basic human rights standards were upheld, and international limits to behavior were codified.  The world would understand a similar institution set up to judge Saddam and his henchmen.

There was no sham of Germans meting out justice to fellow Germans to mar the legitimacy of the Nuremberg proceedings.  There was no cover story.  There just was a important setting of precedent, standards, and rules for judging our fellow humans.

Saddam needs to be permanently prevented from affecting Iraq in the future. If he’s not executed, then he needs a solitary cell in some hostile land (Texas?).

But, President Bush and the Administration must stop the swarmy inaccurate rhetoric about independent, fair Iraqi courts run according to American standards.  Such an assertion is transparent nonsense.  The President should stop the obvious Iraqi trial canards before he does more damage in his ongoing campaign to lose the peace.

My bottom line: let’s show Saddam justice and American honesty.

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