Saddam should face justice in an international court

Frankly, I'm surprised that the guy is still alive. After the "decapitation strikes" that began the war and all of the public pronouncements by administration officials to the effect that Saddam would be encountered with extreme prejudice, it seemed like we would have had a case of "dead men tell no tales". It would not have been too difficult - an armed enemy combatant "resisting arrest" would have been plausible and very convenient.

But US soldiers caught Saddam alive. Now what? How and where does this genocidal dictator face justice?

The only option for a fair trial - fair in the senses of providing justice to the victims, the accused and to history - is an international court (such as an ad hoc tribunal established under a broad international aegis). Here's why:

1) There is no functioning judiciary in Iraq. In fact, there is no judiciary whatsoever. The presence of some lawyers and judges not constitute a judiciary. Legal norms and standards of justice are also prerequisites. There is no "Iraqi law" to speak of at the moment - no constitution, no history of precedent of non-totalitarian legal decisions, no functional standards.

2) Impartiality of judges is next to impossible. If Saddam's terror state was as pervasive as virtually all observers agree that it was, then finding impartial judges will be impossible in any event. Potential judges with the degree of competence required for a case of this importance will either have been accomplices in with the Saddamist system (and should thus also be facing justice, not meting it out) or will have been its victims. Neither victims nor perpetrators can provide impartial decisions concerning an accused with whom they are connected.

3) Saddam's crimes went beyond the state of Iraq. They are both international in scope and violated numerous international treaties to which the state of Iraq is party. Thus, the victims of the Saddam regime comprise more than citizens of Iraq. Juan Cole notes that Iran may file a complaint at the World Court. Hundreds of thousands of Iranian citizens died in a war of Iraqi aggression in the 1980s which also saw the use of chemical weapons. International apparatuses are necessary to consider and properly provide justice for international crimes.

4) Fully public, transparent, and impartial proceedings are needed to get a full picture of Saddam's crimes and those of his accomplices and/or enablers. This concerns the historical record. The fact is that Saddam Hussein is no ordinary criminal - he was the totalitarian head of state of an entire country. It is clear that one man could not have dominated 23 million people singlehandedly. Saddam's own testimony will be crucial in reconstructing at least the upper levels of administration of this brutal system.

It is also clear that the Saddamist Iraq received considerable international support for its crimes. This aspect must also be fully investigated. Accessories to genocide, mass murder, breaches of international law and crimes against humanity must also face justice.

It is at this point that all of the right-wing and/or pro-war wingnuts who claim to have developed an acute concern for human rights must put up or shut up. Is your concern for human rights based on principle - or is it motivated by a hypocritical and petty nationalism? People who honestly despise Saddam Hussein for his human rights violations will also despise Saddam's enablers. There is already evidence that certain people in the Bush administration dealt with Saddam and helped restore official US-Iraq relations in 1984 while aware of the fact that the Iraqi army had already been using chemical weapons against Iran. There is also evidence that the Reagan and Bush administrations continued to push for close ties with the Iraqi government even after the 1988 Anfal campaign against the Kurds - in which at least 5,000 people were killed with chemical weapons - was widely known.

How involved or complicit was the US (and other countries, such as France and Russia) with Saddam's crimes? To what extent did international support allow Saddamist Iraq to commit all of the crimes against humanity of which it is accused? Saddam's trial is the logical opportunity to sort these matters out. But since there are very real questions concerning the US's role in enabling the Saddam government to commit its crimes, the US administration clearly has a conflict of interest that must preclude it from having effective say over whatever court is set up.

Only an international trial has a chance of bringing full justice to everyone involved and setting the historical record straight.

ADDITION: Confer the Guardian's leader on the UK's role as an occupying power. Also, various experts provide their opinion. The International Criminal Court is not an option.

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