The issue of Iraq was certainly on the top of many voters’ minds yesterday as the country went to the polls to elect our nation’s leaders. The historical verdict of death by hanging for Saddam Hussein for the 1982 massacre in the small Iraqi village of Dujail is an important reminder of the progress American troops have made in Iraq. We may have not won the war in Iraq yet but this verdict represents how the rule of law ultimately wins over the brutality of dictators.
The cynics here—and there are many of them in these political days—immediately speculated that the verdict was a ploy to boost the Republicans’ chances on election day. Critics of the trial (westerners for the most part) are quick to point out that procedural matters, such as the lack of security for defense lawyers or denial of access to some requested documents, kept the trial from being truly “fair”. In the meanwhile Saddam’s defense team, led by our own Ramsey Clark, received millions of Iraqi funds, stolen by Saddam’s daughters, to take on the case.
Yes, perhaps there were mistakes made during this trial. Maybe it was too long, and sometimes chaotic. Yet, this verdict is undeniably justice rarely seen in that part of the world. The simple fact that an Arab dictator may face a hangman’s noose for the first time in history seems to have eluded the anti-war crowd. But such a vivid reminder of the vulnerability of modern-day thugs who have ruled millions of Arabs through force and intimidation is not lost on the Arab masses or, for that matter, anyone else who lives where such rulers exist.
Dictators have been the norm in the Arab world for the past hundred years. Too often it seems the only way to get rid of them is by terminal disease or by deposing or assassinating them. To actually catch them in a rat hole, eating a Mars bars, with lice in their hair and then put them on trial, affording them the best defense that stolen money can buy, confront them with witnesses to their crimes, listen to their demented and dim-witted harangues for years on end—it is truly historic. It is a mind-boggling first that will have deep psychological reverberations for years to come.
When Saddam’s statue was toppled on April 9, 2003, in “Paradise Square,” who would have predicted that the so-called “leader-necessity” who had the power of life and death more than 25 million Iraqis would one day face the judgment of his people in a legal proceeding that sets standards for the world. Yes, for the whole world. For despite the quibbles of many Western lawyers, Saddam’s proceedings were conducted according to Iraqi laws, not those of the occupying power, unlike the case in Nuremberg or Tokyo after World War II. And those laws were applied meticulously and fairly.
To appreciate the enormity of this event for Iraqis, both the vast majority of all ethnic, religious and sectarian backgrounds who suffered under Saddam’s iron rule and the minority of Iraqis who followed his orders and who now form the bulk of the so-called “insurgency,” one must think back to the time that the Dujail incident happened. A time when after surviving an assassination attempt, Saddam ordered the hanging of 148 people and the deportation of 400 families, razing their fields in the process. The point was: never again would anyone dare to think of assassination. A lesson was made.
And now, another lesson is made. To the bulk of the Iraqi nation, you have been patient and you have been courageous. Your valiant sons, judges, prosecutors, lawyers have answered the call of the widows of Dujail and Halabja; the cries of the orphans; the whispers of those humans who were buried alive under the sands of Saddam’s mass graves. Your call has been heard and justice is finally coming home.
To those Iraqis who are fighting on in the name of their thug-leader: it is a hopeless cause. He will never come again to lead you in another Anfal campaign. He will never protect you from the wrath of your victims.
To those Arabs who still cling to the myth of the “strongman” savior: the only salvation for your miserable existence is by taking charge of your own affairs and applying the rule of law.
To people like Ramsay Clark: you have to find yourself another dictator to defend, now that your clients like Saddam and Milosevic will no longer pay your check.
Saddam’s sentence is a momentous event in establishing the true rule of law in a land that saw the codification of the first recorded laws for humanity. The descendants of Hammurabi have claimed their place in history. Crime must be punished.
Saddam will be hung like the common thug he was.