Austin Bay

Martins wanted to address the specifics of the complex's first criminal proceedings. There were two men brought into the investigative court, "an alleged Sunni al-Qaida operative and a Shia police officer," Martins said. "Both had proceedings initiated for crimes again the Iraqi people. The al-Qaida operative was accused of killing scores of people, and the police officer accused of abusing detainees in his custody."

The Sunni terrorist accused of mass murder (likely of Shia Arabs) and the Shia cop nabbed for abuse and torture (likely of Sunnis) are, of course, symbolic of Iraq's sectarian strife. They are more than mere symbols, however. They are dreadful men who have committed vicious crimes.

Martins did not want to oversell the judicial proceeding. "I've got to look at results on the ground and not get exuberant. This (proceeding) was just an investigation and a first couple of cases. It's still the early days (in this process). That's why I'm taking a measured approach."

But I pushed him: This is Iraq, Colonel, Islam's tectonic collision of Shia and Sunni. Four years ago, one of the world's most vicious dictators was still in charge. He preyed on ethnic and religious differences and ran a prison state in the Stalinist mold.

"You've got to give the Iraqis their due," Martins replied. "The Rule of Law works in little steps, often methodical. Those steps are calm and deliberate when applied. I think as a lawyer it is dramatic, a small step that provides hope that Iraqis can reject the politics of revenge."

So then it's really significant, isn't it, Colonel? Instead of tribal or sectarian revenge slayings -- more bodies in the morgue -- they've begun the process of systemic change.

"It is a step forward," Martins agreed. "The Iraqi government made a step toward reconciliation by rejecting revenge -- submitting these two alleged criminals to a court."

No, the two criminal proceedings didn't get sensational headlines.

But they should have.

Austin Bay

Austin Bay is the author of three novels. His third novel, The Wrong Side of Brightness, was published by Putnam/Jove in June 2003. He has also co-authored four non-fiction books, to include A Quick and Dirty Guide to War: Third Edition (with James Dunnigan, Morrow, 1996).
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