December 30, 2006

The Republic of Fear

It's easy to get lost in the numbers—no less than two million Iraqis died under Saddam Hussien’s watch. Images of Kurdish children lying prostrate, dead on the spot they breathed Saddam’s deadly mustard gas—the same biological weapon used by fascist Italy against Ethiopian villagers in 1935—show one of the most horrific acts of brutality known to mankind. The Butcher of Bagdad’s 1986-88 chemical and biological weapon attacks on thousands of innocent Iraqis in Halabja and al-Anfal are only a few examples of his systematic campaign to exterminate opposition to his brutal twenty-five year rule.

In various postings, we have stated our support for the war on terror. We are convinced that the dictator’s quarter-century rule needed to come to an end. In the long run, his removal from power will allow Iraqis the opportunity to build a nation based on tolerance and respect for the rule of law. We are further convinced that despite the US-led coalition’s failure to secure the peace following the regime’s downfall as well as the ensuing sectarian violence that may inflame the country and the region in further bloodshed, the powerful ideals of democracy and representative government have found their way into the hearts and minds of the governed all across the Middle East.

International lawyers and commentators will be debating the fairness of the political and judicial process that led to the dictator’s execution early this morning. Some of the questions will concern the removal of judges during the trials and whether the in- and out-of-court statements made by the Iraqi cabinet compromised the former defendant’s due process rights. The latter possibility is disconcerting—we have stated in past postings on the treason trials against the leaders of the CUD that improper political interference in judicial affairs is a primary indicator of a government’s use of its courts to determine a political as opposed to a just outcome.

Beyond issues of fairness is also the appropriateness of Saddam Hussein’s execution before other cases were heard, especially the trials on the massacre of Kurds. In our view, the need to create a meticulous record of the killings with the primary architect facing the charges and the victims’ families in court was compelling; such trials would have also shown to the world the horrors of chemical and biological warfare. We further believe such trials would have helped bolster the Bush administration’s claim of Saddam Hussein’s possession of and willingness to use weapons of mass destruction.

What we nevertheless take from this incredible day in history is a reaffirmation of the notion that heads of states will answer for the crimes they commit against their people. Saddam Hussein’s conviction by the Iraq tribunal comes in the heels of the Rwanda and former Yugoslavia tribunal verdicts against individuals who participated in genocides against their people and goes a long way in sending a powerful message to those who engage in terror and extermination that such acts of impunity will not go unpunished.

Notwithstanding this powerful and timely lesson; however, we regret Saddam Hussein’s execution today. We agree with Richard Dicker, Human Rights Watch’s Director of the International Justice Program, that “the test of a government’s commitment to human rights is measured by the way it treats its worst offenders.” We categorically reject the use of the death penalty even when imposed by a properly constituted court. In our view, an execution, whether carried out by Saddam Hussein against hundreds of thousands of innocent civilians or by a properly constituted court is the same: it is wrong. It is evil. Amnesty International states it best: the death penalty is the ultimate, irreversible denial of human rights.

The man who created the Republic of Fear is gone for good. On this day, our thoughts and prayers are with Saddam Hussein's victims and with the people of Iraq who must find a way to create a viable system that will allow them and their children to live in peace.