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The Trial of Saddam Hussein

Patrick J Buchanan

December  17  2003

He was dug out of a hole looking like some guy picked up off a grate in the dead of winter who ought to be taken to the Mitch Snyder homeless shelter at 2nd and D, so he doesn't freeze to death.

The first words the man in the spider hole, who once compared himself to Saladin, uttered were, "Don't Shoot." Thus did the career of Saddam Hussein come to an inglorious end with a U.S. Army medic sifting through his hair for lice.

Somber and serious as he announced U.S. forces had captured him, President Bush left the gloating to Bremer in Baghdad. The triumphalism of last May's address to the nation from the flight deck of the Abraham Lincoln, beneath that "Mission Accomplished" banner, was gone. And wisely so, for this war goes on.

What the president wishes to avoid is an outbreak of euphoria, a sense that because we now have Hitler the war is over and we can come home. The president now knows better.

For if the attacks ramp up now, after Baghdad has fallen, Iraq is disarmed and Saddam is in custody, Americans will want to know why our men are still dying. If the answer is, "For democracy in Iraq," the next question will be, "Why aren't the Iraqis fighting and dying for democracy in Iraq themselves?"

Ahead lies the trial. In preparing for it, the president's men should keep several incidents in mind. One is the killing of Lee Harvey Oswald by Jack Ruby as Dallas police paraded him before the cameras.

No matter the demand of the Iraqi Governing Council for custody of Saddam, U.S. forces should detain him. For, should something happen to Saddam, the Arab world will never believe we did not murder him to keep him from testifying.

Another occasion to recall is the trial of Nazi Air Marshal Hermann Goering. By the accounts of many observers, Goering ran circles around the U.S. prosecutor, Justice Robert Jackson, and the night before he was to go to the gallows, he was slipped a cyanide pill, cheating the hangman of Nuremberg.

Saddam may see a public trial, where he can make his case against America to the Arab world, as a last chance for future redemption. Nor is the idea absurd. Five years ago, a popular film in Japan portrayed hanged war criminal Hideki Tojo as a military hero framed and lynched by vengeful Americans.

Yet, with a public trial, President Bush has a historic opportunity to persuade the Arab world, through Al-Jazeera, of what he believes is the truth: that, even if Saddam did not have the weapons we thought he had, was not tied to 9-11 and had no plans to attack us, he was yet a barbarous tyrant whom Arabs ought to have been ashamed to support.

A long trial that the world press covers, where the atrocities and massacres of Saddam's regime are exposed and proven by the first-hand testimony of witnesses and the pictures of exhumed bodies, could go far to making the moral case for war.

There will quickly come, however, a clamor that Saddam be tried at the Hague, or by a U.N. tribunal. The purpose would be to establish the supremacy of international law over a sovereign United States.

This must be resisted. America fought this war for U.S. national interests without the aid or benediction of the United Nations. Thus we decide. Second, Europe has outlawed the death penalty. But if Saddam does not deserve it, no one does. Third, the United States itself has refused to accept the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court that came into being over our vehement objections. As Saddam's greatest crimes were perpetrated against Iraqis, the trial should be held in Baghdad, by Iraqis.

Yet there are risks attendant to any such trial.

Most of the world did not support America in the Iraq war, and many in Europe and Asia ardently wish to see us depart Baghdad the way we had to leave Saigon.

English-speaking lawyers are probably already volunteering to defend Saddam. Recall that the "Dream Team" hired to defend O.J. put the Los Angeles Police Department on trial. Saddam's defenders will seek to put America in the dock for aiding Saddam against Iran, for the slaughter of the Shia after the Gulf War, for the thousands of deaths resulting from sanctions and for waging a war of aggression in 2003.

How did the prosecutors at Nuremberg, who had indicted the Nazis for war crimes and crimes against humanity, get around such problems? One was to decide that "terror bombing" would not be on the docket as a war crime. Another was to permit only Nazi crimes to be prosecuted.

If this trial is to go forward before the election of 2004, the president's men should probably start writing the rules yesterday.

2003 Creators Syndicate, Inc.

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