Monday, December 5

A dialogue about Saddam Hussein's trial

After snatching a little sleep I stumbled to the computer and logged back onto the Internet. And what should my eyes be greeted with? A picture on AOL Headline News of an outraged Saddam with his finger raised in court and the headline DISORDER IN COURT Saddam chants, "Long live Iraq!"

To begin with, Pundita has not been in a good mood since Nixon stabbed Taiwan in the back so he could suck up to China. Without caffeine in my veins Saddam's courtroom antics sent me over the top. I thought, What next? Singing We Shall Overcome and sit-ins to free the rat bastard?

I had no sooner worked up a head of steam when an email arrived to thank me for the tip that John Batchelor would be broadcasting this week from the Middle East.

The note was from James Ellsworth, who happens to be a professor at a war college. So this was not his lucky morning to send a thank-you note Pundita's way....

ust awakend tyo see saddam acting up like 60s radical, which put me in a fould moodl . isn't he the head of iraq.s military? was? so why not just just try him befor ea a military tribunal then put him beofre a firing squad?

"ROTFL! Good morning, Pundita!
Delicate balance there. Probably WOULD have if the goal was efficiency...but lots of political capital (and, frankly, TEACHING POINTS about the rule of law) to be made in Iraq by allowing the Iraqi people to extract THEIR revenge on their former oppressor...but WITHIN THE BOUNDS of the rule of law."

are you sure? I have been wondering about all that. as long as it is what the iraqis want, okay. But there is dignity, the need for a people to have dignity. You see, the Iraqis don't know all that he did, and once it starts coming out -- this is a very difficult thought i am trying to express while still half awake.

I just worry that this Judgment at Baghdad (a .la Nuremberg) is not good for peop.les who have never known much dignity. The Germans had a high culture in recent centuries they could hang onto for dignity. the people of the land of 2 rivers haven't had that since -- what? 1,500 BCE?

I don't know. Maybe you are right.. I go now to mainlaine a qart of caffeine so I can type

It was a key demand of the Iraqis when we got him. But your point brings up an interesting and key fact: there are, in many senses, two completely different meanings to "the Iraqis" at the moment. It is entirely possible that it could be simultaneously true that the POLITICAL Iraqis want to exact their revenge, AND the "ordinary" Iraqis could have their political dignity damaged, all by the same act. So IF that were the case, this could be a critical win in the near term, yet potentially problematic in the longer term.

My sense, though, is that there is a psychological component to this similar to what follows the dissolution of a violently abusive marriage: before the victim can truly move on and RECLAIM her (or his!) dignity, there needs to be some definitive, symbolic event that breaks from the past, exorcises its demons, and clears the stage for the future. This is what the IRAQI trial of Saddam represents to Iraqis. It's also, in a key sense, empowering -- because not only is Saddam being brought to justice, but it's the Iraqi courts, acting for the Iraqi people, that are doing it.

Contrast this with the impact on Iraqi dignity--AND on the legitimacy of the p roceedings in the court of worldwide public opinion (likely to be shaky enough as it is!) if Saddam were tried and convicted by THE OCCUPIERS (like Nuremberg). No, I think we got this one right. But like I said, it IS a delicate balance, with a LOT of moving parts; if I'm missing one, I could be dead wrong."

Jim, the Judgment at Nuremberg was not broadcast in living color all over Germany.* Big difference between now and then. I'm not being argumentative; I am just worried that ways of doing things in a mature democracy are being imposed on people who never knew democracy, rule of law. Is a trial that recounts atrocities done to them -- is this the way for Iraqis to start learning? Or will it bring them terrible shame? And with nothing to fall back on?

Such questions haunt me.

Also, they're trying to make a democracy at this time. Huge task. Is Saddam's trial hurting or helping at this time?

"For many of the reasons I laid out in my last message, helping, I think. For one thing, it's showing that in a democracy, even those everybody "knows" are guilty are entitled to a fair trial. For another, it shows that we are willing to trust the Iraqi people/government to run the show, even if we continue to have great influence. And perhaps most critically, it will show, when that influence is generally used to RESTRAIN the Iraqis who ARE hell-bent on revenge, and to ENSURE he gets a fair trial, that we are not QUITE as hypocritical as our press has been portraying us every time we make a mistake."

The psychological factor you cited (need for closure) is a very compelling argument for the trial -- but is the analogy correct? In an abusive marriage, the victim was aware of all the injustices. Isn't the better analogy here more like discovering that one's father is a serial killer?

"I haven't heard anything that would suggest that the overwhelming majority of Iraqis don't already KNOW that "dad" is a serial killer AS WELL AS a wife-beater! Your point about the SPECIFICS of the atrocities is still worth reflecting on...but the psychotherapeutic point remains: they MUST move through the stages of coming to grips first with what was done to them, second with the fact that it's over, and third (and as I said, perhaps most importantly) that THEY have real power over their start with laying the past to rest."

Your argument is still compelling, so for now I will sit on my concerns. Just occurred to me that our dialogue might interest Pundita readers so I will publish with your permission.

I wonder: Do you think the trial at this time might help the Sunnis and Shiites realize all that was done to the Kurds, which might help solidify them as a nation?

"Pundita, it's fine to publish the letters. To answer your question, I would imagine the Sunnis don't especially care what was done to the Kurds (I have a quip I like to use about Sunnis being dissatisfied because they can no longer treat a Kurd like Shiite)...but it could perhaps strengthen the bond between Shiite and Kurd as each learns more details about what was done to the other.

That could, however, be a VERY bad thing for the finally-moderating tone of Sunni sensibility; if anything like that were emphasized, it would have to be accompanied by a great deal of attention paid to how to help the Sunnis avoid feeling like THEY are on trial, given their dominance in the former regime. They need to have an avenue to psychologically dissociate themselves from Saddam and his goons, to avoid the damage to their pride and cultural identity that you were concerned about in our earlier discussion.

For the Sunnis, your analogy of "dad as serial killer" has a lot of power in another sense: even if THEY got beaten every night at home, the looks they'll be getting from teachers and classmates the next day after each news broadcast from the trial will not, for the most part, be friendly.

We must have a plan to be the "Principal" who calls a faculty meeting to remind everybody that the kids did not participate in the crimes, and were victims just as much as those who died."

Okay, Jim. Now: what happens if they manage to get the trial moved to Europe? I am concerned that the Brussels Euros will try to manage the trial so that it becomes an antiwar screed. They were wrong on Iraq, wrong on Bush's Greater Middle East policy, so now they are trying to scrape together spitballs to hurl at the US.

"Moving the trial to Europe (or anywhere outside of Iraq) while arguably justifiable in terms of the sense of U.S. law (cf. moving the OJ trial out of Simi Valley) would in my judgment undercut most of the rationale I just laid out for holding the trial now in the first place. Your concern would be just the axle grease frosting on an already unpalatable cake! (grin)"

Yes, the field tilts to the Brussels Euros if it moves to Europe because it will give them considerable control, including media control. They stand to lose much Face as more comes out at the trial about the past. They have been very skilled at glossing Saddam's atrocities as part of their war against Bush.

Europe (the EU3 in particular) and the US will be as much on trial as Saddam. The difference between the US and Europe in this regard is that we more-or-less respected the embargo, whereas the Brussels crowd greatly profited from it.

And there is the other huge difference: we acted to remove Saddam, whereas France and Germany (and factions in Britain) acted to stop the US from trying.

If as you say the majority of Iraqis have a good idea that Saddam was always a monster, I wonder if they know the extent of West Europe's complicity? I would think that at all costs, the Brussels Euros want to prevent the Iraqis from knowing.

It's not really about the trial of a monster, in the view of the Brussels Euros. It's about protecting their influence in the Middle East. For all America's money, for all our military might -- we got spooked after Sadat's assassination. We stayed behind the enclave wall, wrote out checks and allowed the Europeans to direct our policy in the Middle East. We scurried right back behind the walls after shoving Saddam out of Kuwait, which is just where the Euros want us.

Well now it is our time -- time to do things American style, time to act as Americans act. The Brussels Euros are fighting this tooth and nail.

* Just to clarify, after re-reading. I was not thinking from the view of the political situation in Germany at the time but of the overwhelming impact of that kind of trial today among heavily tribalized clan peoples. Maybe I overlooked that satellite TV in Iraq, now widespread since Saddam's fall, has already braced the Iraqis for the images they will see, the testimonies they will hear.

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