Convicted in a show trial that certainly appeared to have been timed tofinish on the eve of last month’s US elections, Iraqi President SaddamHussein was hanged in a show execution that just as certainly seems tohave been timed to be carried out before the end of the worst year ofthe Iraq War.

Hussein was a bad player — a totalitarian dictator who, with tacit approval from the U.S. and other western nation during the 1980s, killed his own people and waged a mad war with Iran. He needed to be held to account. But even bad players deserve fair trials, honest judgments and justly-applied punishments. The former dictator got none of these.

According to HumanRights Watch, which has a long and honorable history of documentingand challenging the abuses of Hussein’s former government, theexecution early Saturday morning followed “a deeply flawed trial” and”marks a significant step away from respect for human rights and therule of law in Iraq.”

“The test of a government’s commitment to human rights is measured bythe way it treats its worst offenders,” says Richard Dicker, directorof Human Rights Watch’s International Justice Program. “History willjudge these actions harshly.”

For fifteen years, Human Rights Watch had demanded that Hussein bebrought to justice for what the group has rightly described as “massivehuman rights violations.” But the group argues that Hussein was notbrought to justice.

In addition to objecting at the most fundamental level to the use ofthe barbaric practice of state-sponsored execution–which is outlawedby the vast majority of the world’s nations–Human Rights Watch notesthat Hussein was killed before being tried for some of his mostwell-documented acts of brutality.

The group notes the trial that did take place was fundamentallyflawed.

A niney-seven-page report by Human Rights Watch, issued late last month, details the severeproblems with the trial. The report, based on close monitoring of theprosecution of the former president, found that:

•”(The) Iraqi High Tribunal was undermined from the outset by Iraqigovernment actions that threatened the independence and perceivedimpartiality of the court.”

• The Iraqi administrators, judges, prosecutors and defense lawyerslacked sufficient training and expertise “to fairly and effectively trycrimes of this magnitude.”

• The government did not protect defense lawyers–three of whom werekilled during the trial–or key witnesses.

• “(There were) serious flaws in the trial, including failures todisclose key evidence to the defense, violations of the defendants’right to question prosecution witnesses, and the presiding judge’sdemonstrations of bias.”

• “Hussein’s defense lawyers had 30 days to file an appeal from theNovember 5 verdict. However, the trial judgment was only made availableto them on November 22, leaving just two weeks to respond.”

The report did not study the appeals process, But the speed with whichthe tribunal’s verdict and sentence were confirmed suggests that theIraqi Appeals Chamber failed to seriously consider the legal argumentsadvanced by Hussein’s able–if violently harassed–legal team.

“It defies imagination that the Appeals Chamber could have thoroughlyreviewed the 300-page judgment and the defense’s written arguments inless than three weeks’ time,” said Dicker. “The appeals process appearseven more flawed than the trial.”

There will, of course, be those who counter criticism of the process bypointing out that Saddam Hussein did not give the victims of his crueldictates fair trials or just sentences. That is certainly true.

But such statements represent a stinging indictment of the new Iraqigovernment and its judiciary. With all the support of the United Statesgovernment, with massive resources and access to the best legal advicein the world, with all the lessons of the past, Iraq has a legal systemthat delivers no better justice than that of Saddam Hussein’sdictatorship.

This is the ugly legacy of the US invasion and occupation of Iraq: Anawful mess of a country that cannot even get the trial and punishmentof deposed dictator right, a justice system that schedules the takingof life for political and propaganda purposes, a thuggishly brutalstate that executes according to whim rather than legal standard.

According to Britain’s Telegraph newspaper, “There was nocomment from the White House, which was determined that the executionshould appear to be an Iraqi event.” The central role played by the USgovernment in the process was not lost on the Telegraph, however, asthe newspaper noted that: “the transfer of Saddam from American toIraqi custody meant his death was imminent.”

The term “transfer” is of course being used in a loose sense, asHussein was hung not in an Iraqi prison but within theAmerican-controlled Green Zone in central Baghdad.

Now that the killing is done, the governments of Iraq and the UnitedStates have confirmed what may have been the worst fear of those whocondemned both Saddam Hussein and the US invasion and occupation thatremoved him from power. The crude lawlessness of Hussein has beenreplaced by the calculated lawlessness of a new regime.


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