Now that he’s finally been convicted of crimes against humanity for  the murders of 148 Shiite villagers in 1982 and sentenced to death by hanging despite his stated preference for a firing squad execution, world opinion has weighed in once again, and once again the verdict is mixed. Predictably Al Jazeera is unhappy with what they see as another instance of “Victor’s justice,” a view shared by many European pundits and human rights groups. What these human rights groups thought when they saw the videos of Saddam killing people, some lucky ones by shooting, other less fortunate being slowly lowered into human shredding machines?

It is the existence of these video, photographic and eye-witness accounts of Saddam’s ruthless barbarities that made the trial absurd in the first place. How, for instance, can his legal presumption of innocence have any meaning in such a context? It was because he sheltered international terrorists while at the same time practicing a rule of terror against his own people that  brought about the  war with the US in the first place. So, logically, how can one presume he was guilty enough to invade his country and then afterward presume him innocent for trial purposes?

Despite the nit-picking of some, much of the world is if not delighted with the verdict at least satisfied. Compared to the trial of Slobodan Milosevic by an international court in Europe things went swimingly, even if a few judges were murdered  by Saddam’s pals — unindicted co-conspirators to use the Watergate phrase. Around the world most people feel justice was served. Certainly both the procedure and the outcome were better than in the case of Cambodian dictator Pol Pot, whose crimes against humanity still at this late date remain untried and unpunished.

There’s an insanity to giving all the niceties of a trial to brutal killers like Saddam. But in the land that gave the world the code of Hammurabi, the first legal procedures for the punishment of criminals, perhaps it was worth entering the theater of the absurd to put aside once and for all any notion that Saddam was a victim. So far the trial’s critics have done their best to find fault with the procedures of the court and have come up with zip. Does Saddam’s trial and death sentence serve notice to the rest of the world’s dictators that the time may come for them to stand trial for their crimes against humanity and pay the ulitmate penalty for them? If so then absurdity is a small price to pay.


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