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October 19, 2005
Saddam On Trial

The first Arab leader ever to face a tribunal of the people he once led -- or, more accurately, oppressed -- began this morning with Saddam Hussein querulously demanding to make a statement and a reading from the Qu'ran. He refused to identify himself and defied the court's authority, claiming that the tribunal and the mechanism which empowered it is illegitimate. "Any Iraqi would know me," Saddam finally said, declaring himself the President of Iraq.

His trial will likely feature many such outbursts, but the judge's patient scolding of Saddam for not following the rules shows that the tribunal has expected just such a strategy of obstruction and have prepared for it. The Iraqis has set the table for this trial very carefully, selecting a little-known but more easily presented case of mass murder as its first case against Saddam Hussein. The massacre of Dujail gives a wide scope to the tribunal, as it involves not just Saddam on a personal basis -- an important point for the first presentation -- but also other elements of Saddam's regime: the army, the judiciary, and security forces.

This gives the Arab world a chance to see that even someone as powerful as Saddam Hussein can be brought to justice by their own people if they have the courage to seize the opportunity to rule themselves. Of course, not everyone thinks that this is a good development. Take, for instance, the New York Times editorial board, which somehow wants the Iraqis to wait to stage one trial for all of Saddam's myriad crimes at once, calling the tribunal a "collective vendetta" even before the first gavel fell:

... this prosecution would have been conducted differently if it were a serious attempt to uncover the murky lines of authority and responsibility within the Baathist regime and establish Mr. Hussein's clear personal responsibility for at least some of the roughly 300,000 murders committed in his name. It would have built up its case methodically, from the field operatives carrying out the killings to the officials who gave them their orders and on up the chain of command to Mr. Hussein himself.

Instead, today's trial will begin with what prosecutors and politicians decided was the easiest case to prove, a mass execution in a Shiite town that followed a failed 1982 assassination attempt against Mr. Hussein. These killings ought to be prosecuted. But if the aim is to uncover the broader criminal conspiracy in order to punish the truly guilty and absolve those guilty only by association, other trials should have come first.

What we have is a narrow sectarian government, still struggling to come up with a nationally inclusive constitution, that is conducting what looks like a show trial, borrowing noxious elements of Baathist law to speed the way toward an early and politically popular execution.

No, what we have is a bitter set of editorialists who have watched as the Iraqi people they continually underestimate put their new democracy together while the Gray Lady continually carps about their priorities from the sidelines. The Paper of Record continues to marginalize itself, now issuing whining complaints about the order of charges against a mass murderer. What difference does it make which crimes get tried first? Shouldn't the easiest charges to present get the first airing, or does the New York Times suddenly endorse the notion that Saddam and his henchmen sit in prison indefinitely without ever facing any kind of trial?

The Times fails to grasp the historical and cultural impact of Saddam's trial, bitching about the details while missing the big picture. At least they're consistent.

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Posted by Ed Morrissey at October 19, 2005 4:59 AM

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» Saddam On Trial from bRight & Early
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The Associated Press reports Saddam Hussein's trial for alleged crimes against fellow Iraqis began today: Saddam and the seven others are facing charges that they ordered the killing in 1982 of nearly 150 people in the mainly Shiite village of [Read More]

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