On the first day of class, I was greeted by several friends outside the on-campus Starbucks, who supplemented their greetings with jubilation over the execution of former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussien. It might have been the fact that I’m part Iraqi that made them assume I would reciprocate their glee. It wasn’t a completely wrong assumption. My Iraqi community was full of celebration over the news that the former dictator had been executed for all his atrocities and acts of genocide, including the 1988 gassing of the Kurds and the violent suppression of the Shiite uprising following the first Gulf War. In this regard, I can definitely see why many regard Saddam’s death as a symbolic act of liberation and the triumph of justice.
I, however, don’t find myself celebrating. I find myself questioning what Saddam was questioning: the legality of the trial. I don’t want anybody to assume I support dictators. I don’t. It’s just that Saddam and I agree on the abstract but disagree on specifics. Saddam, among other points, saw his trial as unsubstantiated because, as the rightful leader of Iraq, no court had jurisdiction to try him. That’s the basis for the vehement remarks he constantly spewed out at random intervals to the amusement of many viewers who knew his death was certain.
My problem is just that: His death was certain. The trial itself shouldn’t have had any legality since it was conducted in an environment hostile to Hussein regardless of his guilt or innocence. One of the underlying principles of justice that has never been in disagreement is the fact that every trial should be conducted in an unbiased manner. Even our Constitution lists that important concept in the Sixth Amendment and gives courts the implied prerogative to change venues to ensure the impartiality of a trial.
The Saddam trial was much more skewed. On Jan. 23, 2006, Rauf Rashid Abd al-Rahman replaced former Chief Judge Rizghar Amin who resigned after complaining that the trial had too much political interference; there were complaints that Amin was being too lenient on the defendants, complaints that many human rights groups used to question the impartiality of the court. Amnesty International, in a press release on Nov. 5, 2006, cited that incident, among others, such as a lack of protection for defense lawyers, three of whom were assassinated, as ‘interference [that] undermined the independence and impartiality of the court.’
To top it all off, the new interim Chief Judge, Rauf Rashid Abd al-Rahman, was born in Halabja, a city in which 5,000 Iraqi Kurds were killed at the hands of Saddam’s security Forces. Even though the trial isn’t dealing with the Halabja incident, it is dealing with very similar situations and raises questions that have been raised by Saddam’s defense lawyers and international groups over the predisposition of the new judge. This criticism was rebuffed by the Supreme Iraqi Criminal Tribunal. To look at it in perspective, it was a noncapital offense when Tom Delay managed to dismiss a judge over his Democratic leanings. Saddam, however, was determined guilty in advance. That’s certainly not how justice should be doled out and that’s certainly not a way to help mitigate the Shiia-Sunni divide.
For starters, Saddam’s trial shouldn’t have been held in Iraq, but in an unprejudiced international tribunal similar to that of Slobodan Milosevic. Similar suggestions were given by both Amnesty International and the U.N. Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, which called for the United States and Iraqi governments to remedy the serious flaws that prevented a fair trial under international law. People complain that international tribunals drag on and only bring a verdict, if ever, after years of constant bickering and deliberation. My answer: Welcome to justice. Trials that can potentially result in capital punishment should be drawn-out processes. Even in America, the judicial system allows for these lengthy processes to mitigate rash judgment, allowing all the evidence to be revealed and give the accused time to create a defense and the right to appeal. The accumulation of common law over the past centuries has favored a slow, drawn-out judicial system, with faults at times, but still a system that through trial and error has remedied many problems that inhibit the conduct of a fair and impartial trial.
Whatever Saddam’s defense might have been