Global Politics

Saddam's final chapter

MN says the trial was a pivotal event in Middle East history: this represented a televised spectacle of Iraqis having a tangible step towards reestablishing the rule of law and showing that the tyranny of the old regime had ended. (But many thought the trial should've been held at the International Criminal Court at the Hague, as opposed to a special tribunal in Iraq. Who made that decision?) It was an organized group of Iraqis, the ICC had no tribunal over the case, and the Iraqis had the right to try Saddam. (You describe how the trial gave Saddam a voice again, and how he used the TV spotlight. Did you regret that you helped give him that stage?) MS: That was a repeat of aspects of Nuremberg as well as Milosevic's trial at the Hague, and we warned the judges that Saddam should be kept bottled up. But the Iraqis wanted to play by their traditions and let Saddam speak, which I personally thought was a disaster. (I think most in the West will remember the end point of the trial, his execution, and the cell phone video which leaked out. The execution was a chaotic scene, and do you think that'll provide an enduring legacy of Iraq's sectarianism?) MN: I think a sad reality is that the execution accomplished in two minutes what the defense tried to accomplish in the whole trial. There's a lot more to the execution than just that cell phone video. (The book also talks about how long the preparations were for Saddam's trial.) MS: The evidence was being collected at the time of the First Gulf War, especially in northern Iraq, where Human Rights Watch got truckloads of evidence. That is the information that ultimately led to Saddam's conviction. (This week we saw the prosecutor of the ICC ask for an arrest warrant for the Sudanese President, al-Bashir. What parallels are there between the cases of Bashir and Saddam?) MN: Saddam's trial shows how people try to grasp on the complex issues of international law at a domestic level and the fact is that had never been done in the Arab speaking world. That's an incredibly important accomplishment, and one that most likely has encouraged Bashir's indictment. MS: This also shows the end of impunity, despite the extraordinarily challenging nature of these cases.

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(This story is based on a radio interview. Listen to the audio to hear it.)

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