Justice for Hussein

Posted: Dec 16, 2003 12:00 AM

I would trust the producers of "Survivor" to put together a fitting trial for Saddam Hussein before I would trust the United Nations.

To start, any solon who worries about giving Hussein a "fair" trial should not be allowed near the tribunal. For such people, Hussein's trial is an opportunity to establish how fair-minded they are as jurists, rather than a chance to redress the rivers of red blood spilled in this thug's name.

And it takes a special kind of person to insist -- as United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan did Monday -- that there be no death penalty for a strongman responsible for, as The New York Times reported in January, possibly "a million dead Iraqis." It's one thing to believe a free state shouldn't kill civilians. It's another to argue that a murderous head of state should be immune from the only punishment he fears -- meeting his maker.

The enormity of Hussein's crimes exceeds anything ever presented in a court of law; it asks a court to settle questions historically settled in uprisings or on battlefields.

Thus, any trial would be problematic. For one thing, there is no need to "solve" the crimes. There's no Col. Mustard in the library with the candlestick. The world knows that Hussein is guilty, that when he ruled Iraq, his government gassed Kurds, his henchmen executed political enemies, his prison guards tortured and killed dissidents, and his military invaded Kuwait -- a move that precipitated two Gulf wars.

The purpose of putting Hussein on trial then would be to determine the appropriate punishment, and perhaps more important, to prompt Iraqis to acknowledge the carnage that occurred in Hussein's Iraq and recognize that it is carnage they failed to prevent.

This is where I wouldn't trust the United Nations. The august body has a name for Hussein's misdeeds -- "crimes against humanity." The term, alas, turns a thousand murders into one statistic.

Under U.N. auspices, former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic is on trial in The Hague for crimes against humanity. Milosevic has turned the trial into a farce. A lawyer by training, Slobo has been having a ball cross-examining witnesses and highlighting deaths caused NATO bombing. He has used the United Nations' fear of appearing to mete out "victors' justice" to prolong his trial and mock his accusers.

Nothing would make Saddam Hussein happier than a U.N. trial in The Hague. It's clear that, for all his promotion of jihad and martyrdom, Hussein is afraid to die. That's why he surrendered, when a nearby pistol could have made him a martyr.

It would be insane to give Hussein a trial that spares him the threat of capital punishment and bestows an international spotlight on his two-ton ego.

President George W. Bush said Monday that the United States would work with Iraqis to try Hussein in a way that would withstand international scrutiny. By all means, let Iraqis judge Hussein's fate. If they choose the death penalty, his crimes will have warranted it.

The important thing, however, is a trial that doesn't politicize Hussein's many crimes. Iraq needs a trial that humanizes Hussein's victims.

Try Hussein for genocide, and the tribunal will feature one expert after the next opining on the motives behind genocidal crimes and historical enmities that spurred the hate. Try Hussein for each murder, however, and the story will focus on the Kurdish child who was gassed, the Shiite boy who saw his mother raped, or the scientist who was carted away and never seen again. It could take decades for all Hussein's victims to tell their tales.

I want Hussein to get a fair trial -- but it won't be fair to Iraq if Hussein is allowed to turn his trial into a circus.