IT'S NOT ABOUT SADDAM
By Micah Halpern
Wednesday November 8, 2006
Everyone is weighing in on the Saddam Hussein trial. Everyone. Everyone has something to say.
Voices in the Arab world are saying that Saddam Hussein's trial is all about the United States' mid-term elections. That the trial is another example of U.S. imperialism. They are saying that the United States has killed far more people than Saddam ever killed. Some voices are even turning the prosecutorial tables, calling for George Bush and his accomplices to be brought to trial, in Iraq, for the damage they have done the Iraqis. That's what they had to say about the trial. And then came the verdict. Oy vey.
Those same voices from the Arab world heard the verdict and now they are waiting for the real explosion, the real eruption, the real backlash. They are angrier now than they were before. The ignominy of the trial, they feel, pales in contrast to the arrogance of the verdict. Who are they to sit in judgment of an Arab leader? These people see this verdict as the highest form of U.S. meddling into local affairs, affairs that are absolutely none of their business.
Then there is Europe. Europe is generally upset by the role the United States is playing in Middle East and this trial of Saddam Hussein only exacerbates an already bad situation. Europeans fear the repercussions of what they see as a faulty policy. What really disturbs Europe, what disturbs them more than anything else is the fact that Saddam Hussein is now on death row, that the punishment meted out to Saddam is death by hanging. The overwhelming policy of Europe and the overwhelming sentiment of Europeans pits them against the death penalty.
Like the Arab world, European leaders and European public opinion seems to be more up in arms about principles and punishment than they were about the trial.
They are missing the point, all of them.
The trial of Saddam Hussein is not about his punishment. It is certainly not about mid-term elections or U.S. imperialism or faulty United States foreign policy.
This trial and all future trials of Saddam Hussein and his Iraqi henchmen are about catharsis and justice.
This trial and all future trials are about taking responsibility for history and about assuming accountability for the future.
The trial of Saddam Hussein is best understood in the context of history. Taking Saddam's life will not bring back any of the thousands upon thousands of men, women and children he butchered, bludgeoned and beheaded. That is why this trial and no trial that follows will ever be about revenge.
Public participation in the trial of Saddam Hussein, through the media coverage, allows Iraq as a society to begin to cope with the horrors of the past. The trial was broadcast specifically so that people could watch and hear. Could cry or clap or scream or punch their fists through walls or cower in corners, or wail or dance. This publicly transmitted trial allowed those victims of Saddam, victims who are still alive, to begin the personal process of recovery.
The new Iraq is confronting the old. The new Iraq is taking charge, setting the record straight. The new Iraq is meting out justice to those who perpetrated the injustice. And then the new Iraq will move forward with purpose and with pride.
Even if Saddam had never been captured, this trial should have taken place. Even if.
Think back to the Nuremberg Trials, the trials that took place in the aftermath of World War II. Certainly, there are differences between Saddam's trial and the Nuremberg trials. Most notably, Nuremberg was an international tribunal. But the purpose of the trials was to have a legal historical record of the events and to attribute blame to people who were part of the process. Germany could be made accountable for the events that transpired in their country because of the Nuremberg Trials.
Think back to the Adolph Eichmann trial. The objective of Eichmann's trial was to have an official protocol of the history of the events in which he participated, they are in the court record.
These atrocities perpetrated by Saddam Hussein are now and forever more on the record. And that is the real reasons for trials against the Butcher of Baghdad. Not about creating a good defense. Not about conviction. Not about his punishment. About creating a record.
The purpose in trying Saddam Hussein is to confront the past in order to allow for a future. A future without the persecution and injustice that marked Saddam's rule.
Different societies deal differently with the fall of a tyrant. So the Kurds celebrated. The Shiites danced. The Sunnis promised revenge for Saddam. That's okay, it is expected.
From this point on, I expect there to be more trials and more trials and more trials. Most will not be internationally covered. But they should be locally covered. Part of the transition towards empowerment for the people or Iraq is the recognition that the system works to protect them not to harm them.
When citizens feel safe about their present and confident that their children have a future they will take the initiative, stand up and do the right thing. It's about moving on.