Saddam death sentence may set example

By Freedom Newspapers

One hopes that the death sentence imposed on former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein by an Iraqi court will resonate most meaningfully in places like North Korea, Zimbabwe, Cuba, and perhaps even in Iran.

It cannot but help to focus the mind for people like Kim Jong Il, Robert Mugabe, the Castro brothers and the political mullahs to be reminded that people who are repressed and brutalized sometimes receive the opportunity to turn on their cruel rulers and administer something resembling justice.

It is more difficult to predict the political impact in Iraq.

Despite mild irregularities that bothered some Western observers and despite the best efforts of Saddam Hussein and some of his codefendants to turn it into a circus, this trial might have been the fairest conducted in a Middle Eastern country in recent times. It was not perfect — a trial in which three defense attorneys are assassinated and the chief judge resigns to protest pressure from top government officials is not exactly model Blackstone.

Saddam Hussein, who despite his bravado came across as a small-bore and frightened man, was convicted on the basis of actual evidence — his signature on orders decreeing the brutal torture and execution of what turned out to be 148 residents of the small Shia village of Dujail. This brutal 1982 response to an alleged assassination attempt on Saddam was far from the worst act of savagery or repression under his reign — a separate trial over the use of poison gas against Kurdish towns is already under way. But the brutalization of an entire village for the acts of a few gunmen was unnecessary and fits the definition of a crime against humanity.

It was important that an Iraqi court carry out this trial, though the United States and United Nations helped from time to time, despite numerous complications and an increasingly difficult security situation. The trial showed that despite all the problems facing the country, at least the potential for self-governance exists.

That potential has been tested and is likely to be tested more severely in the wake of this verdict. Minority Sunnis, who ran the country under Saddam and are the hotbed of the current insurgency, are likely to foment new violence once the curfew expertly enforced by U.S. and Iraqi forces ends. Despite the relative fairness of the trial many Sunnis will choose to see it as a kangaroo court.

Political leaders are too seldom held fully accountable for their misdeeds. Even his execution cannot bring back the thousands of Iraqis wrongfully killed under Saddam Hussein’s misrule. If it causes some other dictator a few moments of discomfort or even fear, however, perhaps it will have served a higher purpose.å