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."
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."
"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 washingtonpost.com 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.
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