Saddam’s trial has only revived his power

By Patrick Burke

There have been many eloquent apologies for the unremitting chaos of the Saddam Hussein trail. Some believe that, even though the trial may often resemble a circus more than a conventional judicial affair, it is good to see Iraqis independently executing something non-military in nature. Despite the self-empowering effect the prosecution of its former oppressor could have on contemporary “democratic” Iraq, it has become apparent over the past several months that a nascent Iraqi state simply was not prepared to properly try the most profound vestige of its totalitarian past.

As The Economist notes in its recent defense of the trial, it is true that similar trials executed through The Hague have not gone smoothly either. Nevertheless, there is no doubt that, at the end of his war crimes trial in Iraq, Saddam Hussein will have fortified his image in the Iraqi consciousness as a sort of martyr. Saddam has simply been given too much freedom to speak, gesticulate, and generally infuse his own war crimes trial with the special brand of megalomania that characterized the Baathist regime. Should not Saddam’s war crimes trial be his period of greatest despondency? Conversely, his war crimes trial in Iraq has seemingly reenergized the fallen leader, discovered decrepit and unkempt in a makeshift bunker not all that long ago.

Many believed that the predominance of Kurdish judges within the tribunal would ensure a thoroughly demoralizing trial for Saddam. Realistically, however, Saddam Hussein is the most magnetic figure in the courtroom. On trial for his life, Saddam has somehow maintained a disturbing amount of control over his own destiny and, arguably, the destiny of Iraq. In the wake of Fascism, was the burden of trying Benito Mussolini placed upon the Italian state? Would the Germans have been expected to try Hitler? Perhaps a larger question is being raised here. Neither Fascist Italy nor Germany was occupied in the same manner that the U.S. has presided over the reconstruction of Iraq. Although it may be Iraqis sitting on the bench, was it truly the Iraqis who organized the trial of their former dictator and ensured that ethnic Kurds would play such a large juridical role?

Certainly the precedent for due process that the Saddam Hussein war trial has set is valuable. The Iraqis are indeed conducting a more than fair trial for the ruthless dictator the U.S. purportedly had to rescue them from in the not-too-distant past. On the contrary, not to dabble in extremes, but why is it that the Italians and Germans never found themselves with the same burden that the Iraqis now find themselves carrying? The Italians, of course, brutally executed Il Duce before any talk of criminal courts could even begin. Fearing that the potential criminal trial might not go in his favor, Hitler took matters into his own hands. Saddam Hussein, this heinous, bloodthirsty tyrant, supposedly despised by his populace, has been leveling insults in court for roughly five months now. In other words, perhaps Saddam Hussein’s trial has gone so poorly because Iraq is still under his spell.