Of all the mistakes that the Bush administration has committed in Iraq, none is as gratuitous and self-inflicted as the bungling of the trial of Saddam Hussein.
Although Saddam deserves to be shot like a dog -- or, same thing, like the Ceausescus -- we nonetheless decided to give him a trial. First, to demonstrate the moral superiority of the new Iraq as it struggles to live by the rule of law. Second, and even more important, to bear witness.
War crimes trials are, above all and always, for educational purposes. This one was for the world to see and experience and recoil from the catalog of Saddam's crimes, and thus demonstrate the justice of a war that stripped this man and his gang of their monstrous and murderous power.
It has not worked out that way. Instead of Saddam's crimes being on trial, he has succeeded in putting the new regime on trial. The lead story of every court session has been his demeanor, his defiance, his imperiousness. The evidence brought against him by his hapless victims -- testimony mangled in translation and electronic voice alteration -- made the back pages at best.
``This has become a platform for Saddam to show himself as a caged lion when really he was a mouse in a hole,'' said Vice President Ghazi Yawar. ``I don't know who is the genius who is producing this farce. It's a political process. It's a comedy show.''
There hasn't been such judicial incompetence since Judge Ito and the O.J. trial. We can excuse the Iraqis, who are new to all this and justifiably terrified of retribution. But there is no excusing the Bush administration that had Saddam in custody for two years, and had even longer to think about putting on a trial that would not become a star turn for a defeated enemy.
Why have we given him control of the stage set? We all remember the picture of him pulled out of his spider hole. That should be the Saddam we put on trial. Instead, with every appearance, he dresses more regally, emerging from cowering captive to ordinary prisoner to dictator on temporary leave. Now he carries on as legitimate and imperious head of state. He plays the benign father of his country, calling the judge ``son,'' then threatens the judge's life. Saddam shouts, defies, brandishes a Koran. The judge keeps telling him he's out of order. He disobeys with impunity, the guards daring not to intervene.
Charles Krauthammer is a 1987 Pulitzer Prize winner, 1984 National Magazine Award winner, and a columnist for The Washington Post since 1985.
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