05 Nov Thoughts on Saddam’s Conviction
I will have more to say when the IHT’s written decision is available, but here are a few quick thoughts on Saddam’s conviction.
First, until this morning, I did not believe that the U.S. had orchestrated the timing of the verdict. But then I learned that the written decision will not be released until Thursday “for technical reasons.” So why read the verdict today, if not because of politics? As an MSNBC blogger in Baghdad points out, the verdict itself doesn’t answer any of the most significant questions:
The furthest the chief judge went today to explain why Saddam was sentenced to death was to say Saddam he found guilty of Article 12 A, through Article 15 B, of the Iraqi High Criminal Court Law… All that means, examining at the law, is that Saddam was guilty of “willful murder” because he had “ordered, solicited or induced the commission of such a crime, which in fact occurs or is attempted.” Saddam Hussein was found guilty of ordering murders. Who he murdered, how, when and what proved his guilt, we are told, will be explained on Thursday.
Second, the Iraqi government seems to have resigned itself to Saddam being executed before the Anfal trial is completed. The Chief Prosecutor, Jaafar al-Moussawi, told the press after the verdict that if the death sentence is upheld, Saddam will be hanged even if the Anfal trial is still in progress. That will almost certainly be the case: although there is no time limit on the Cassation Panel’s review of Saddam’s death sentence, which is automatically appealed to it, an IHT official said that “the appeals process [is] likely to take three to four weeks once the formal paperwork was submitted.” If he is correct, Iraqi law would dictate that Saddam be executed no later than the end of February — long before the end of the Anfal trial.
Third, al-Moussawi’s unequivocal statement seems to indicate that the Iraqi government has also decided that executing Saddam quickly is more important than giving the victims of Saddam’s genocidal acts in Anfal, Halabja, and elsewhere their day in court. (Given the government’s constant interference with the independence of the IHT, I doubt it would be unwilling to pressure the Cassation judges to sit on their review of Saddam’s death sentence through at least the end of the Anfal trial.) If the government believes that executing Saddam will quell the insurgency, I think it is mistaken — if anything, the violence will spike in the short-term and then return to the same level as before. The insurgency is about the U.S. occupation and the Iraqi government’s resolute political and economic marginalization of the Sunnis, not about some wistful nostalgia for the good old days of Saddam’s rule.
Fourth, if Saddam is executed before the end of the Anfal trial, many people will second-guess the decision to begin with the Dujail trial. As many scholars have pointed out, beginning with Dujail made good legal sense, because the evidence against Saddam was overwhelming and the crimes against humanity charges were much easier to prove than the genocide charges at issue in Anfal. Politically, though, the importance of the Dujail trial pales in comparison to the Anfal trial — 148 deaths versus at least 50,000.
Fifth, and finally, although a complete assessment of the Dujail trial must await the IHT’s written decision, I find that the end of the trial fills me with nothing but sadness. Despite my belief that the U.S. invasion of Iraq was illegal, I had high hopes for the trial itself — and I looked forward to seeing Saddam brought to justice for his horrific crimes. Instead, I witnessed what can only be described as bad political theater, a trial in which defense attorneys were murdered, judges were forced to resign by the executive, and basic standards of due process were ignored. (My essay cataloging the problems with the trial is available here.) It didn’t have to be that way; there is no doubt in my mind that Saddam would have been convicted after a perfectly fair trial. It is to the Iraqi government’s lasting shame that it did not trust its own judicial system enough to give him one.