Wednesday, January 03, 2007

The Execution of Saddam Hussein

I have hesitated to post anything about the execution of Saddam Hussein, mostly because by the time I thought about it, everyone else had already done a better job than I could. And also because the gravity of the event just sort of overwhelmed me. I'm just going to make a few observations.

I have seen a couple of posts and comments that referred to the Iraqi Special Tribunal as a sham court. I don't think that's entirely true. I do believe its independence could be questioned given that it was appointed by the U.S.-appointed Iraqi Governing Council back in 2003, but I think under the circumstances, the judges did the best they could, and I don't think their thoroughness can be questioned; the English version of the final written opinion is 298 single-spaced pages-long, making it one of the longest opinions ever issued by a war crimes tribunal (available in English here).

I think in many ways this trial was in trouble from the beginning. Having Iraqi judges apply international law and procedure that they are not familiar with was probably not a good idea. I think some sort of hybrid system would have been better, as was done in Sierra Leone.

While the trial was televised in Iraq, it did not seem to offer any "truth and reconciliation" to the Iraqi people, with the insurgency increasing in intensity. I disagree with the death penalty generally, but even if Saddam was to be executed, I think it would have been better to have him stand trial for all of the crimes for which he is accused. Only then could history, not to mention Iraqis and the outside world, have a better idea of what this man was truly responsible for.

I worry that Hussein's death will end up creating another martyr to a culture that is no stranger to martyrs, a symbol for the Sunni insurgency, and another cog in the downward and self-perpetuating cycle of violence that plagues Iraq and all of the middle east.

(Good article by Michael Scharf about the trial)

Executing Saddam during a holy holiday (Eid ul-Adha), when people are distracted by celebration, is also a particularly bad idea when creating a martyr is already a distinct and predictable outcome.

No comments: