Well the least suspenseful trial in history since Nuremberg is about to come to an end in Baghdad today, Sunday November 5. From the moment American troops pulled Saddam Hussein out of his rabbit hole it was obvious there would only be one verdict in his trial – guilty. If any other verdict could possibly have been returned they wouldn't have had to invade Iraq.
But do you know what the charges are against him that this verdict is being handed down today? He is on trial for his alleged role in the death of 150 people following an attempted assassination attempt in 1982. That's right: he and seven co-defendants are on trial for something that happened twenty-four years ago, which was in retaliation for what in most countries is considered an act of treason.
For one second try to remove everything you know about the circumstances of who and what Mr. Hussein was and consider this trial just on the basis of facts. First of all, the events in question took place nearly a quarter of a century ago and at the time Mr. Hussein was considered one of America's staunchest allies in the region. The faction that tried to assassinate him were members of the same sect who had recently overthrown the government in Iran and were seen as destabilizing force in the area at the time.
Secular Muslim and Arab nations at the time were cracking down heavily on all groups who posed potential threats to their governments. Remember – one such group had just assassinated Anwar Sadat of Egypt shortly before this time and his successor was filling prisons with anybody who even looked like they were willing to support an Islamic jihad.
The other thing to consider: how dependable is evidence from twenty-four years ago? If there is even a shadow of doubt that he is guilty of this specific crime, or if the evidence is only circumstantial, how can he be sentenced to death? I don't know the circumstances surrounding this incident; were these people just rounded up and killed, were they arrested and summarily executed without trial, were they given a show trial and then executed, or were they given an opportunity to defend themselves in a court of law?
The problem with the first two scenarios is providing irrefutable proof that Saddam Hussein had planned and carried out these murders deliberately. The problem with the third is proving that they were just show trials, and the difficulty with the the fourth is guaging if they were properly conducted by a judiciary system. Hussein signed the orders for their death sentences to be carried out – how much different is that from any one of the death sentences that George Bush signed when he was Governor of Texas?
All right, I know that might be a little bit of an oversimplification, and that any judiciary under Saddam Hussein was going to be rigged. But even so, there are going to be far too many holes in the rationale for finding a death verdict in this instance to make it seem like anything else but an excuse to hang Hussein. Exactly the same thing he is being accused of doing in 1982.
The run up to this verdict has the occupying American army and the Prime Minister of Iraq so nervous that they imposed a complete curfew on all people, and traffic in Baghdad and three surrounding cities. Nobody is allowed to be on the streets whatsoever. The airport has been closed and security at all checkpoints has been beefed up.
It is being assumed that one side or the other will react no matter what the verdict. If he is found guilty and sentenced to hang then Saddam's fellow Sunni Arabs could very well increase the intensity of their violence, which has already seen a horrid upswing in the past week. On the other hand if he isn't sentenced to hang the Shiite Arabs who were in opposition to Saddam could very well have a similar reaction.
The current Prime Minister of Iraq, Nouri al-Maliki, hasn't helped matters by interfering in the judiciary process by publicly declaring his hope that Mr. Hussein is sentenced to hang. The fact that he represents the majority Shiite Arab community that was persecuted under Hussein's regime gives the trial more the appearance of an exercise in vengeance then an attempt to obtain justice.
If bringing Saddam Hussein to trial was an attempt to begin the process of reconciling the two sides in what's becoming an ever increasingly violent sectarian battle it's not having the result intended. Instead of the Prime Minister's taking the heart out of the insurrection, putting Hussein to death on charges like these runs the risk of turning him into a martyr in the eyes of the minority Sunnis.
You would think with the situation so volatile they would try and hold off on issuing a death sentence, either indefinitely, or at least until the charges Saddam Hussein is on trial for have enough substance to leave no room for doubt in anybody's mind. The mass murder trial he is facing for ordering the deaths of Kurdish villagers that began in August justifies a death sentence far more then the current charges.
A death sentence for Mr. Hussein based on the current charges will be death sentences for many more people aside from him and could well be the first step towards the civil war that everyone fears. Confusing justice and vengeance is a mistake at any time – here it would be a very bloody one.