October 19, 2005

saddam in the dock

In ordinary legal cases, justice seen to be done is as crucial as justice being done.

And in cases such as the one of today, which belongs to the special and curious category of political justice, perception is everything.

For this is not really a case to establish whether Saddam is guilty of ordering hundreds to be tortured or killed in Dujail. Even his ardent supporters concede the point. Rather, a case to prove or disprove that an ideology, such as espoused by its proponents and its beneficiaries, was worth the blood and suffering of its victims. The verdict will not be uttered in one hall of justice, but in the minds and hearts of all interested individuals across the Middle East, and perhaps beyond.

To be sure, this is a process that was micromanaged by the U.S. (through the Regime Crimes Liaison Office), and aided by the U.K. (5 judges received a special training for several months in Britain). So an accusation that it is a sort of “victor’s justice” is certainly warranted. To what extent, victims' justice will come to replace victors justice is an open question. Though the very first signs are not very encouraging.

For a starter, the presiding judge did not seem a good choice. He came across – on the surface at least- as a judge without that essential gravitas to instill the aura of the law. So far. A second issue is his ethnicity. Nothing personal against the Kurds (may they have free and independent Kurdistan today). But if your intended audience is the entire Arab World, having a Rezgar Amin trying a Saddam Hussain won’t help your case. The judge also seemed to be unsure of his Arabic, and spoke in rather colloquial language.

Saddam, on the other hand, succeeded in appearing pensive, defiant, and in full control of his verbal barrage.

On a day that saw the victims of his atrocities still absent from the court room or its vicinity, and certainly absent from Al-Arabiya and Al-Jazeera extended TV coverage, Saddam –sadly- managed to win this round in his first day in court.


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