First Posted: 1/15/2009
Saddam Hussein, defiant but impotent, arrived in an Iraqi court on Wednesday - about two and a half decades tardy - to face charges of mass murder.
Saddam, now 68, and seven co-defendants stand accused of the 1982 massacre of about 150 Shiites that occurred after a failed attempt on his life in the town of Dujail. For good measure, after the massacre, Saddam ordered the town bulldozed.
The Iraqi judicial system picked this case out of many as the first one to pursue against Saddam because the evidence is so overwhelming. The new Iraqi government has now given Saddam an accommodation that he never gave his victims - a trial.
Its beginning wasn't without theater: Iraqis who watched on television surely took some pleasure in watching Saddam struggle with guards in an effort to walk independently after he entered a plea of not guilty.
Saddam questioned the legitimacy of the court, maintaining in a rambling delivery that he remained the president of Iraq, but later he joined the court process. After three hours of court on Wednesday, the panel of five judges postponed the next phase of the trail until Nov. 28 so that witnesses could be found who didn't show up on Wednesday for fear of their lives.
Still, the trial of Saddam Hussein - as unimaginable in Iraq a few years ago as free elections - has begun.
The Bush administration hails Saddam's trial as another important step for Iraq as it continues to work toward a stable democratic government. Critics join Saddam in questioning the legitimacy of the trial in a country that remains occupied by America's military. In doing so, they sweep aside the immense suffering that Saddam imposed on the country for parts of four decades.
There remains the question of whether or not Saddam can receive a fair trial in a country that suffered so much at his hands. The Iraqi justice system only requires that the panel of judges be “satisfied” of Saddam's guilty, and not that guilt be established beyond a reasonable doubt.
But the fairness of the trial and the standard of guilt don't matter in this case. Any trial, fair or rigged, with any standard of guilt will determine that Saddam is guilty. When that is done, then he should be hastily hanged.
That will satisfy the Iraqi people and help them extricate themselves from an ugly past and better prepare for a hopeful future.