Iraq v. Saddam: Iraqis have right to justice

Whatever one feels about the war in Iraq, the world is a better place without Saddam Hussein in power. Now that the former dictator is in custody, the question is what to do with him. The court that decides Saddam’s fate should be an Iraqi one.

Amid all the discussion, it seems this will be the case and an Iraqi tribunal will hear the matter, which is the only viable option. Some have discussed other possibilities, including U.S. military courts and a U.N. or other international tribunal.

The U.S. military judiciary would be a poor venue for a few reasons, the better claims against Saddam. Furthermore, the less U.S.-directed Saddam’s trial is, the more credibility it will have internationally – especially in the Middle East, where credibility is especially necessary right now. Finally, many military court proceedings are held behind closed doors, which is not an option because of the need for international credibility.

While a U.N. body would have certain benefits, it is unlikely to happen. U.N. tribunals are rare, and the United Nations has had a limited role in Iraq up to this point. Any ad hoc international tribunal would lack credibility and be ripe for disorder. The International Court of Justice and the International Criminal Court, unfortunately, are not options. The International Court of Justice basically handles only disputes between nation-states, and Iraq did not ratify the Rome Statute creating the International Criminal Court. Ironically, the International Criminal Court would be the perfect tribunal as its purpose is to deal with human rights abuses, war crimes and crimes against humanity on the scale now leveled at Saddam.

Iraqis deserve justice, retribution, healing and closure. They have a difficult task ahead of them. In a fair proceeding with adequate defendants’ rights, convicting a political leader of the allegations against Saddam is difficult – just ask those trying Slobadan Milosevic. Nonetheless, the new tribunal must be just because it sets precedents for the Iraqi judicial system as a whole.