Saddam's Trial: Farce or Justice?

The death sentence handed down Sunday for Saddam Hussein's role in the execution of 148 Shiite villagers in 1982 provoked strong media reaction the world over.

The strongest expressions of approval came from two groups who don't often agree: Iranian online commentators and supporters of the U.S.-led invasion in 2003 that lead to Hussein's capture. The sharpest criticism came from Arab observers who saw the trial and verdict as tailored to U.S. interests and from European pundits opposed to the death penalty under all circumstances.

Few commentators derive much comfort from the decision because of the ongoing chaos in Iraq, according to a BBC media survey. "There is widespread concern that the violence will continue, or even increase, with one Arab commentator arguing that the world is witnessing the 'crumbling of Iraq,'" said the British news site.

Was Justice Served?

Yes, says the government-dominated media in neighboring Iran which fought an eight-year war with Iraq in the 1980s.

Describing the former Iraqi president as "a criminal of monumental and historic proportions," the Iran News said, "Good riddance Saddam."

"The brave verdict that the judge issued soothed the pains and agonies of the Iranians and Iraqis and will have positive effects for these two countries," said Iran's judiciary chief Ayatollah Hashemi Shahroudi, according to the Fars New Agency.

In Saudi Arabia, the Arab News also approved, saying, "To have been sentenced to anything less severe would have been not only a travesty -- which much of the trial has been -- but also completely unjust to the thousands whose lives were either cut short or ruined because of the merciless dictator and his dictatorship."

The Gulf News in Qatar welcomed the verdict as "a strong message for other dictators in the region and around the world."

"What the world has witnessed is the end of a trial, conducted in a war zone on behalf of a struggling democracy, in which the defendant was as guilty as sin," said the Daily Telegraph in London. "The death of Saddam is not a sufficient condition for the establishment of democracy in Iraq, but it is certainly a necessary one."

The German financial daily Handelsblatt recalled that at one time Hussein's trial was expected to act "as a catharsis," according to Spiegel Online's translation. "Now, in the face of the increasing violence, the trail "has seemed an unimportant sideshow ... The original aim of self purification has been overtaken by the daily chaos."

Still, the trial was worthwhile, said the financial daily. "Saddam, who had made himself godlike with his ludicrous personality cult, was shrunk back to normal size in court."

"This alone made the trial worthwhile. The Kurds should now be given the chance to bring him to justice for crimes against them. The paper counsels that there should be 'no rush to send Saddam to his death ... if at all.'"

The conservative daily Die Welt praised Iraq for being the first Arab country to attempt to "use the law to deal with a terrible dictator and to embark on a new path towards a different future."

But for many in the Middle East and Europe, the verdict served neither justice nor the people of Iraq.
"The sentence was illegal and the court unfair. How could it be otherwise since it was created by the occupier's decision, its judges fleeing or dismissed and the lawyers attacked by the government's death squads?" asked Al Quds Al Arabi, a hardline daily that is critical of the United States and Israel.

A Court of Chaos

"The sentence was not lawful. The trial was politicized and the outcome known," Khaled Al-Habbas, a Saudi political analyst, told the Saudi Gazette.

The Khaleej Times said the decision was "victors' justice at its worst."

"Saddam is the first leader from an Arab and Middle Eastern country to be deposed and put in the dock like an ordinary criminal, " said the Persian Gulf daily. "Which is why it was absolutely critical to make the whole process of trying the former Iraqi leader and his men transparent and completely fair. Which hasn't been the case in this trial."

In Britain, The Times agreed saying the courtroom proceeding resembled "an exercise in vengeance of the Shia majority in Iraq" with the verdict amounting to "victor's justice."

The Guardian said "none of the judges and lawyers showed an understanding of international criminal law; court administration was chaotic. Reliance on anonymous witnesses undercut the defendants' right to confront witnesses and test their evidence. The murder of four defence lawyers and the removal of a judge under political pressure made the whole thing a black farce."

In France, Le Figaro (in French) said the verdict "could not be contested" but regretted that it gave "the impression of legitimizing a military intervention, undertaken under false pretenses, rather than serving as the founding act of a State of law, after 24 years of dictatorship."

The conservative daily urged the death sentence be commuted to life in prison. So did El Mundo in Spain and the Swiss government.

Blaming the United States

Many critics of the Hussein trial said executing Hussein would serve to hide his relationship to the United States in the 1980s.

Hussein's trial did not bring to light "the fact that the West, particularly the United States, bears at least some responsibility for the deaths of many of Saddam's victims," said the Daily Star in Beirut.

"The former dictator used US-supplied poison gas to commit his atrocities against the Kurds during the Iran-Iraq war, when the Reagan administration was supporting and arming the Iraqi regime. After the Iran-Iraq war ended in 1988, Saddam sent his military to crack down on a Kurdish uprising in the Anfal campaign, again with the support of the US president, who opposed congressional legislation to impose sanctions against Iraq at that time."

The Tehran Times said the U.S. seeks "to prevent the disclosure of secrets about the cooperation of the United States and some other Western countries with the Iraqi Baathist regime during the war against Iran."

"Clearly, if Saddam had revealed these secrets in court, the world would have become better acquainted with the real intentions of the United States and Europe."

Cherif Bassiouni, professor of law at DePaul University and an adviser to the Iraqi tribunal, said the U.S.-written statutes were to blame for the sometimes chaotic scenes in the courtroom.

The judges, prosecutors, and defense attorneys were not "familiar with the adversarial, accusatorial practice of the American system which has been foisted upon them by the American drafters of the statute and [other legal advisers and] have reverted to the practices they know best under the 1971 Iraqi code of criminal procedure," Bassiouni told the Financial Times (by subscription).

Iraqi newspapers refrained from commenting on the verdict Monday, but a Baghdad blogger known as Riverbend did not.

"It's not about the man- presidents come and go, governments come and go," she wrote. "It's the frustration of feeling like the whole country and every single Iraqi inside and outside of Iraq is at the mercy of American politics. It is the rage of feeling like a mere chess piece to be moved back and forth at will. It is the aggravation of having a government so blind and uncaring about their peoples needs that they don't even feel like it's necessary to go through the motions or put up an act. And it's the deaths. The thousands of dead and dying, with Bush sitting there smirking and lying about progress and winning in a country where every single Iraqi outside of the Green Zone is losing."

What Next?

"The trial - and the verdict - has reinforced the divisions in the country," said the BBC

Most expect violence to increase.

"There is no reason for celebration because the execution of Iraq preceded Saddam's death sentence," said Al Hayat (in Arabic), the secular nationalist Arab daily published in London. "We are witnessing the disintegration of a State we wish was a leader and example to follow given its natural and human resources. There is no reason for celebration because today's Iraq seems much more dangerous for itself and its neighbors than Saddam's Iraq which was hugely dangerous."

When the Gulf News asked readers yesterday if Saddam's execution would make Iraq more peaceful or more violent, 58 percent said more violent. Only 11 percent said more peaceful; 30 percent thought it would make no difference.

Tunisian journalist Hmida Ben Romdhane contributed to this post. Romdhane is the editor-in-chief of the international desk of the Tunisian daily newspaper "La Presse." He is with for several weeks as part of a two-month fellowship sponsored by the U.S. Department of State and the International Research and Exchanges Board.

By Jefferson Morley |  November 6, 2006; 11:28 AM ET  | Category:  Global
Previous: The 'Cauldron of Oaxaca' | Next: In Arab World, Bitterness Over Hussein Verdict


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Posted by: Robert Rose | November 7, 2006 11:42 AM

No, Robert. Farces are funny.

Posted by: Alicia | November 7, 2006 12:05 PM

A Joke perpetrated by Rummy & Cheney. Rummy delivered the weapons that killed those alleged Saddam assassins. America was complicit in Saddam's rise to power, sided with Saddam in the Iran-Iraq war, etc. America should be proud: they made Saddam and they brought down Saddam. Ha ha ha

Posted by: M.Stratas | November 7, 2006 12:27 PM

148 people? Seriously?

What's next? Clinton and Reno on trial for the Branch Davidians in Waco?

Bush on trial for "ordering" the deaths of 500,000 Iraqis?

Gimme a break!

Posted by: For Crying out Loud | November 7, 2006 12:56 PM

The spectacle of a verdict just before election day, for republican advantage, renders any other question moot. (Once Saddam was caught no one thought the outcome could be otherwise. But the spectacle was putrid.

Posted by: Ruled Moot | November 7, 2006 01:05 PM

How many documented deaths has Saddam caused? Horrible. But how many deaths has G.W. Bush caused? In Iraq, and CERTAINLY Including the 1,000 he let the Jews kill in Lebanon before allowing the cease fire everyone wanted. And perhaps count the Palestinian deaths GWB's great friend Sharon caused with US administration money and arms...and...

Posted by: | November 7, 2006 01:08 PM

I don't think the sentence was a big surprise, but it will probably split Iraq. The Shia may cheer, but many Sunni will not accept the sentence. Because it occured during the American occupation, it will not be accepted by the Arab street outside of Iraq. They do not like the idea of an Arab leader being brought down by a western nations.
I think it would have been better for Iraqi unity, if the trial had been held in the international court. There would have been no death sentence, and Sadddam Hussein would not be seen as a martyr in some quarters. However, with the strong feelings on both sides of this issue in Iraq, a trial outside of Iraq would also not be accepted. This is a no win situation for everyone involved.

Posted by: P. J. Casey | November 7, 2006 01:13 PM

Caspar Weinburger (sp?) said "We're not sure it was Saddam Hussein who killed those Kurds because that's not the gas we gave him"

Should we try him too?

Or should we let the Iraqi's do it?

By the way, Iraq does not yet have codified laws, so how could they have found Saddam guilty of anything? Did they use American law? If so, it was not a legitimate trial.

Posted by: Thom | November 7, 2006 01:15 PM

I just read in the Israeli newspaper Haaretz, that some Palestinian groups are threatening to attack Americans, if Saddam Hussein is executed. Saddam is popular with the Palestinians because he gave money to the families of suicide bombers to rebuild their homes after they had been destroyed by Israel in retaliation for the attacks. More unforseen consequences.

Posted by: P. J. Casey | November 7, 2006 02:20 PM

I find it interesting that the vapid, abstract, and positive responses to this verdict were on the front page, while the criticisms, all based on legal jurisprudence and history are buried. Americans all know why the verdict is great for democracy - Bush preaches it all the time. doesn't the post have more of a responsibility to inform by using its formatting more responsibly?

Posted by: mwallin | November 7, 2006 03:51 PM

Jeff - don't forget my article which was printed by Asia Times Online, Middle East Online, Alarab, Counterpunch, Pravda, and many others. Having worked on the defense I can write with personal knowledge. By the way, the Asia Times is one of the most intellectual papers in the world, like a Harpers Magazine but with deadlines like a daily paper.

- Paul

Posted by: Paul Wolf | November 7, 2006 06:35 PM

Paul, I just read your article in Asia times and my mind has been blown away by it. Now I know that Saddam's trial is a complete farce. The real threat is G W.

Posted by: al | November 7, 2006 09:28 PM

Never mind Iraq and Sadam Hussein. Just read that Israel last night killed some 15 family members in Gaza. Only 2 things tosay about Israel, the "good" news and the "bad" news. Good news: Israel is absolutely insane and has fallen down the deep end. Bad news: It will only fall further.

Posted by: Anagadir | November 8, 2006 01:15 PM

It's a farce: a puppet regime set up by a lawless superpower that carried out an invasion that was sold to the public on the basis of lies and carried out in violation of international law now decrees that someone must die. And we are to believe that this is credible justice? Saddam Hussein did commit many crimes, and should have been judged by a competent, credible tribunal. Instead he has been judged by a kangaroo court set up by a U.S. puppet regime. And Iraqis are supposed to take this seriously? It's only an invitation for more civil war and more lawlessness. The Americans seem incapable of understanding that their adventure in Iraq lacks an essential ingredient: legitimacy. In the absence of such legitimacy (within Iraq or internationally), the situation there is only bound to get worse. We in the rest of the world must demand reparations from the U.S. so that a credible international force can have the financing it needs to go in and clean up the violent mess that America created there.

Posted by: Joao | November 8, 2006 01:32 PM

148 villagers killed by Sadam? WOW!
Under which laws prevailed?

Who would be surprised at the approval expressions of the Iranians online commentators and the U.S. led invasion in 2003?
It may soothe the pains of some Iranians and some Iraqis but it will not serve its main purpose. Why was Iraq attacked in the first place? First, to capture the strongman who builds weapons of mass destructions (as a result from 9/11. In self defense for the American people was it not right?
After a series of investigation and results from experts were presented that there was no weapon of mass destruction in Iraq, still an invasion was staged and carried on in Iraq.

After Sadam was captured and again, no weapons of mass destruction was found, now what?
He was sentenced to death for crimes in 1982 killing 148 innocent villagers?
So, finally Sadam is found guilty of tyranny and not because of building and concealing weapons of mass destruction!

It may send a strong message to dictators in other areas and regions, but around the world? Nations in the whole world is not even in comparison with Iraq even if they have tyrants!

I believe in self defense. But one cannot build by destroying what he believed was a national threat. It's not as easy as he thought it should be. We are talking about human lives here. (Not to mention the vast millions of dollars worth of money involved which could have been spent on progress and advancement instead, such as strengthening the military forces as main defense, & rebuilding what was already lost). The reality of losing more American lives by putting a death mask on the military men and the American people as a whole (who is fearing who)was more painful, and far more damaging.
Iraq became a killing field, and more innocent lives were taken on all sides.
So, who poses a threat here?

The Sadam verdict may prove justice prevailed to some; but it will not stop terrorism which should be the main pursuit.
It is a farce than justice; to camouflage the great blunder in Iraq?

Posted by: Ann | November 9, 2006 12:41 AM

The 64 dollar question: "Saddam's Trial: Farce or Justice?" Both. Obviously in that part of the world dead penalties are standard for such crimes. But also his trial and resulting dead sentence is politics - pushed by Bush. As Americans, we don't feel too bad about such a sentence - we do the same thing here (more-or-less).

Posted by: Chuck / Mississippi | November 13, 2006 10:13 AM

Invasion of a sovereign nation in the name of finding WMD and yet finding none is itself a violation of interntional law. Is Iraq a better place for its own people and the international comminity today than when it was under Saddam Hussein's rule? Honestly, the answer is no. In light of the chaos that is going in Iraq right now, how about invading North Korea which now touts its nuclear weapsons to the face of the United States? Isn't the North Korean leader guilty of worse human rights violations by starving purportedly millions of its own people to death rather than merely 148? The trial of a former head of state after an invasion and occupation of a sovereign state in violation of international law can only be a farce!

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