Of course, Saddam should be tried, but it makes no sense to do it against a background of a civil war in which he is, alas, still a figurehead
Saddam is being tried when the war to remove him is increasingly recognised as a disaster
Saddam’s trial wouldn’t pass for justice in a dictatorship
There is one last excuse for those of us who were so trusting as to support the war in Iraq — and that excuse is disintegrating before our eyes.
We were soon proved wrong in our assumption that the Pentagon had serious plans for post-war reconstruction: the Americans hadn’t a clue. We were hopelessly wrong in imagining that the Iraqis would somehow work together to build a brighter tomorrow: they are engaged in a civil war of ever mounting savagery.
But we optimists clutched at one final consolation, one solid benefit that we had conferred on the Iraqi people. We may have triggered a war that has so far claimed the lives of 58,000 people, most of them innocent civilians; and yet, amid all the carnage and the suicides and the beheadings, we persuaded ourselves that we had installed one shining Western institution to be an example to the benighted Middle East. At least, we preened ourselves, we have put that monster Saddam Hussein on trial, hmmm? At least we have shown Johnny Arab what we mean by due process, hey what?
How pathetic and how hollow that boast seems now. The Saddam trial is a disgrace to justice that ought to be prorogued or transferred to another country. The latest judge has just suspended the session because he was unable to control the increasingly self-confident ravings of the bearded and staring-eyed ex-tyrant, and, when proceedings resume on October 9, they will still be a mixture of farce and tragedy.
We like to claim that this is an “open court”, but the deliberations are often so embarrassing that the microphones are turned off. When the Iraqis are allowed to watch the actual session, they see a hideous hybrid of Western due process and the traditional Iraqi kangaroo court, taking place against a background of murder and mayhem.
The result is legal chaos. The first judge was called Barawiz Mahomed Mahmoud al-Merani, and he got the hearing off to a flying start by being assassinated in March 2005. The next trembling jurist to be handed the gavel was called Rizgar Armin, but under him the court soon resembled a class of nightmare 16-year-olds in the charge of a seriously rattled supply teacher. He gave up in January, claiming ill-health.
The Iraqi court officials then announced that his number two would be taking over, a distinguished and learned geezer called Sayeed al-Hammashi. Everybody agreed that he would be a fabulous choice, until it was pointed out to the Americans that he was a former member of Saddam’s ruling Ba’ath party, and, ahem, his nomination was withdrawn.
They then found a Kurdish judge, one Abdel Rahman, and he seemed ideal. Surely, everyone said, we can rely on a Kurd to come down hard on Saddam for his crimes at Halabjah. But Abdel Rahman resigned shortly afterwards, claiming that he had come under unbearable political pressure.
The fifth judge to officiate was the splendid Abdullah al-Amiri, who lasted right up until this month, mainly by seeming to go rather easy on Saddam. On September 19, however, he blew it by intervening in an extraordinary exchange between Saddam and a gnarled old Kurdish witness.
The witness was relating how he had been to see Saddam to plead for the lives of his family, and Saddam was saying, well, it was hardly the act of a dictator to have audiences with humble Kurdish peasants. At which point the judge intervened, and said — in what will go down as the single most off-message remark of the whole Iraq conflict: “You are not a dictator. You were never a dictator. The people around a person make him a dictator. Not just you. This happens everywhere.”
At which a visibly moved Saddam bowed his head and thanked his lordship for his support. You can imagine the American monitors watching this in numb disbelief; you can imagine the chewing of the Downing Street curtains.
Under Iraq’s bizarre constitution the judge was sacked by the politicians, and judge number six is currently trying and failing to keep order in class. Seven people connected with the trial have so far been killed, including three of Saddam’s lawyers. His chief defence lawyer, Khami al-Obaidi, was abducted, tortured and murdered by men claiming to be from the interior ministry.
How on earth can the Iraqis have faith in the impartiality of these proceedings, when witnesses, lawyers and judges are being indiscriminately threatened, tortured, killed and sacked? It is amazing to think Britain spent £2 million, and the Americans £73 million, training Iraqi lawyers and judges for this charade.
Have you heard our Foreign Secretary protesting about what is going on? Who is our Foreign Secretary, by the way? The British position is to wait and hope that the Iraqis will hurry up and top him; itself a rather creepy approach, since we are meant to have a principled opposition to the death penalty.
Of course, Saddam should be tried, but it makes no sense to do it against a background of a civil war in which he is, alas, still a figurehead. Nuremburg may have been victor’s justice, as Sadakat Kadri observes in his magisterial history, The Trial. But those hearings at least took place when the war was conclusively won and was overwhelmingly believed to have been worth fighting.
Saddam is being tried when the war to remove him is increasingly recognised as a disaster, not least by the American intelligence services. He is being tried when men loyal to him are still fighting and killing. He is being tried by judges who are either in awe of him or who tell him softly that he was “not a dictator”. In the words of Cicero, laws are silent when swords are unsheathed.
The coalition should stop the pretence that the Iraqis can do this themselves. Saddam should be removed from Baghdad, where his presence is just aggravating the conflict, and be tried for his manifold barbarity in the Hague.
Of course, it means riding roughshod over the Iraqis, but then there is nothing new in that. All they can see on their screens at the moment is a variant of the show-trials they remember from the Ba’athist era, except that the judges keep getting whacked. As someone once said, if this is justice, then I am a banana.