The NY Times retreat from reality on Saddam

Captain's Quarters:

A little more than three years after Saddam Hussein meekly came out of his spider hole, the Iraqis have finally removed the last obstacle to his execution. Saddam attempted, with some success, to transform his trial into a political showpiece, using it to rail against the American occupation and to inspire the Ba'athist remnants to terrorist attacks. Despite having several members of the court assasinated or attacked, the tribunal convicted Saddam for crimes consistent with the evidence. And yet, this is not enough for the New York Times:

The important question was never really about whether Saddam Hussein was guilty of crimes against humanity. The public record is bulging with the lengthy litany of his vile and unforgivable atrocities: genocidal assaults against the Kurds; aggressive wars against Iran and Kuwait; use of internationally banned weapons like nerve gas; systematic torture of countless thousands of political prisoners.

What really mattered was whether an Iraq freed from his death grip could hold him accountable in a way that nurtured hope for a better future. A carefully conducted, scrupulously fair trial could have helped undo some of the damage inflicted by his rule. It could have set a precedent for the rule of law in a country scarred by decades of arbitrary vindictiveness. It could have fostered a new national unity in an Iraq long manipulated through its religious and ethnic divisions.

It could have, but it didn’t. After a flawed, politicized and divisive trial, Mr. Hussein was handed his sentence: death by hanging. This week, in a cursory 15-minute proceeding, an appeals court upheld that sentence and ordered that it be carried out posthaste. Most Iraqis are now so preoccupied with shielding their families from looming civil war that they seem to have little emotion left to spend on Mr. Hussein or, more important, on their own fading dreams of a new and better Iraq.

So let's get this straight. What is really important isn't the hundreds of thousands of people that Saddam had killed on his whim. It isn't lengthy public record of his "vile atrocities". It isn't the long string of living victims that had to bear witness under difficult circumstances to those who could not appear in court. What really matters, the Times insists, is that the process did not "nurture hope".

When it comes to Saddam and his crimes the Times is certainly in no hurry. They have been among the leaders in suggesting that waiting through 16 UN resolutions and 12 years of violations before removing Saddam was a rush to war. While Saddam's trial may have had some procedural irregularities, many of them were of his own making. His outburst and lecturing of the judges was contemptuous from beginning to end. The trial did despite these irregularities produce convincing evidence of his guilt. In appellate practice the errors of this nature are called harmless. That could certainly not be said for Saddam's rule.


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