Sunday, January 07, 2007

Siegerjustiz (victor's justice)

Ok. I'll admit it. I really didn't think they'd off Saddam Hussein--at least not so quickly. Clearly I wasn't paying sufficient attention to the transitional justice apparatus in Iraq, unlike Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch. In a rather horrifically ironic twist, the execution has already lead to the death of a ten-year-old boy, and others.

What really irritates me (and most other critics) is that they executed Hussein for his part in the murder of 148 people at al-Dujail, but crippled attempts to find justice in the much larger and comparatively more heinous al-Anfal trial. Now, did he deserve to die for his part in the al-Dujail massacre? Hell yes. I'm going to come right out and say that murdering tyrants and genocidaires fit nicely into my narrow category of "people for whom the death penalty is appropriate." The overwhelming evidence is a part of that conclusion. But the most important part of bringing Hussein to trial (as with any transitional justice movement) was uncovering the truth. Even if Saddam didn't testify, even if he continued to make a ruckus in the courtroom, his presence would have increased domestic and international scrutiny, and added weight to the subsequent trials. Now the Kurds have been cheated of resolution.

One thing I have to question, however, is the dogged insistence of AI, HRW, etc., that Hussein's trial should necessesarily have taken place with massive international involvement, possibly even abroad.* Would that not detract severely from the legitimacy of the trial? I certainly think so. After all, Saddam Hussein was primarily a perpetrator of crimes against humanity, i.e. Iraqis, and only occasionally a regional criminal, i.e. against Iran and Kuwait. Despite all the post-9/11 PR, we know he wasn't really an international criminal at all. Furthermore, Iraq needs to reconcile his abuses with his success, nationalizing the oil industry just before the Energy Crisis, creating an award winning health system, and (although I would disagree this is always a good thing) rejecting Sharia law in favour of a Western-style legal system.**

The second point made by AI, HRW and others is that transitional justice must be a good example to set a precedent for the post-conflict justice system in the country. Victor's justice (and make no mistake, this was a case of victor's justice) fails to do that, thus condemning the post-conflict society to corrupt courts and an unjust legal regime. I fail to see any evidence of that. The Nuremberg Trials were obviously victor's justice, and I fail to see their negative impact on the very robust German legal system. Similarly with the Tokyo Trials. The ad hoc tribunals for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) and for Rwanda (ICTR) are likewise practicing siergerjustiz, not indicting equally culpable NATO war criminals in the former example nor members of the ruling government in the latter. While, in an abstract sense, it would be perhaps more just if they did so, it would not be feasible. Given the choice between bringing some criminals to justice on the one hand, and standing on principle only to let everyone escape justice on the other, they chose to prosecute whom they could. It's been 50 years since Nuremberg, and there hasn't been any concrete fallout.

While I obviously disagree with the timing of Saddam Hussein's execution, and while the trials in Iraq are in need of massive improvement, I do think that it is overstating the case to suggest that their flaws will undermine any potential the Iraqi justice system has to flourish. I sincerely wish the tide of criticism now aimed at Iraq was a little more tempered, perhaps leaning towards helping them to overcome the errors of the first trials, rather than castigating them for what are truly irreversible errors, especially now that Hussein is dead.

* See Amnesty report and Human Rights Watch report on the al-Dujail trial.

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