Tuesday, July 19, 2005

First Charges Against Saddam Hussein

The Iraqi Special Tribunal, constituted to try Saddam Hussein and members of his former government, announced Sunday that the first case against Saddam had been referred for trial. The referral is akin to indictment in the US criminal justice system, and will allow the trial to be scheduled. The first case involves Saddam's massacre of over 150 Shiites in Dujyal in 1982. (The largest known massacre by Saddam against Iraqi nationals was the gassing of over 5,000 Kurds at Halabja in 1988; charges in that case are likely to be forthcoming.) The Dujyal case appears to be well-documented, relatively straight-forward, with witnesses who are readily available, all of which make it suitable to be the first case heard against Saddam. A tribunal established with limited jurisdiction and purpose needs to establish credibility in the early cases.

Whatever one's position on the US-led invasion of Iraq, prosecution of Saddam is important. The special tribunal was constituted more or less by an outside power (the CPA, though it technically ceded power to the Iraqi Governing Council for the purpose of official establishment of the court) but has come to include Iraqi judges and be governed by a combination of Iraqi law and international criminal law (for war crimes, crimes against humanity). This makes it different from, say, prosecution by the ICC -- the wisdom of which I continue to doubt. The tribunal has faults, but it can serve an important function in discrediting Saddam apologists and giving voice to the many tens of thousands of victims of Saddam and his brutal regime. But it is equally important that the trial be perceived as independent of both the US and the current Iraqi government, fair, and impartial (or at least as impartial as possible under the circumstances). If it succeeds at that, it can, like many of the successful national prosecutions that have taken place in post-conflict/post-regime societies, play an important role in putting Iraq on a firm path toward the rule of law and democracy.

For those interested in monitoring this case and other investigations, the tribunal has a website, though it doesn't appear to be updated very frequently.

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