George Will

WASHINGTON -- The tyrant's capture has triggered a predictable chorus from those who have consistently subordinated the interests of Iraq, and other things, to their agenda for aggrandizing international institutions. They say an international tribunal should have a role -- perhaps the role -- in the trial of Saddam Hussein. So it is timely to recall the Nuremberg anomaly.

The charges against leading Nazis in the 1945-46 war crimes tribunal included waging aggressive war. The judges included -- necessarily but grotesquely -- a representative of the Soviet Union, which was Hitler's ally in September 1939 when he invaded Poland, and which participated in Poland's dismemberment. It would be unseemly for Saddam to be tried in front of judges from, say, France, Germany and Russia, which tried mightily to prevent his removal.

Opposition to ``internationalizing'' Saddam's prosecution involves different, larger and better reasons than the U.S. decision -- which seems like a tantrum tarted up as foreign policy -- to deny Iraq-reconstruction contracts to companies from nations that opposed the war. A trial in Iraq, by Iraqis, can serve several important goals.

It might have been easier if Saddam had died resisting capture -- although that would have allowed the mythmakers, who are legion in that region, to envelop his memory with a nimbus of martyrdom. The fact that he was captured with a pistol he would not use even on himself makes it unlikely that he can seem bravely defiant in his trial.

An Iraqi trial can build the authoritative record of Saddam's crimes. It also can give the new regime dignity.

The long, dispiriting history of Holocaust denial -- a thriving lie in the Middle East, and alive elsewhere -- would be a far worse plague had not the Nuremberg tribunal painstakingly rubbed the noses of various nations in what they did, or did too little to prevent. An unsparing presentation of Saddam's crimes would also usefully complicate the moral exhibitionism of some of America's critics.

In addition, an Iraqi tribunal would be a dramatic opportunity to demonstrate progress toward something even more crucial than the reliable production of electricity -- competence at governing. It is axiomatic that hard cases make bad law, but this is not a hard case. There is no doubt that the person to be tried committed criminal enormities.


George Will

George F. Will is a 1976 Pulitzer Prize winner whose columns are syndicated in more than 400 magazines and newspapers worldwide.
 
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