Global Policy Forum

Saddam's Death Won't Close Pandora's Box


By Michael Glackin *

Daily Star - Lebanon
November 6, 2006

The verdict of course was as much in doubt as a turkey's fate come Thanksgiving. Saddam Hussein now has a date with the hangman's noose. An appointment with death. It's an appointment many thousands unjustly faced during his brutal 24-year tenure as leader of Iraq, although Saddam is being sent to the gallows specifically for the torture and execution of 148 Shiite men and boys from the village of Dujail. It was not the worst of his many crimes, but a straightforward one to prove in court. His execution - allowing time for the appeal that is mandatory under the current Iraqi Constitution but which is unlikely to offer Saddam much comfort - could take place as early as next month.

But as Saddam once again dominates this morning's newspaper headlines we should remind ourselves that his trial and sentencing have become an irrelevant sideshow to the carnage that is occurring on a daily basis in Iraq. The verdict and sentence - whether it is carried out or not, and the odds are it will be - will not make the slightest difference to the blood-soaked quagmire the Iraqi people and the troops of the US-led coalition are currently wading in. Whatever comfort those who suffered at his hands, particularly the families of those killed in Dujail, may feel today, the fact is Saddam is an irrelevance in the current Iraq, eclipsed by the increasing body count of innocent people murdered by a myriad of insurgent groups, none of whom take their lead from the life or the eventual fate of Saddam Hussein.

Despite assertions that Saddam wanted to use the trial to stoke the fire of insurgency, the various insurgents currently wreaking violent havoc on the country, from radical jihadists to Sunni terror groups, have agendas all of their own. They do not need Saddam as a figure head, anymore than Al-Qaeda requires Osama bin Laden's leadership for its deadly assaults on the world. Saddam has neither influence over the unabating violence or any hope of gaining from it. In the unlikely event that he were to call for the violence to end tomorrow his plea would fall on deaf ears.

One of Saddam's lawyers predicted a guilty verdict would "open the gates of hell." They are wrong of course. The Iraqi people have faced a living hell for the last three years. Over the weekend the country's perilous security situation was further underlined with the discovery in Baghdad of 55 tortured bodies, one headless, the latest victims of a sectarian civil war that continues unabated. Saddam's imminent departure from this world is unlikely to prove the catalyst for an improvement.

The legitimacy of the trial has of course been criticized, most notably on the independence and impartiality of the court. Unlike the trials of other leaders charged with crimes against humanity, as occurred with the genocide in Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia, where the trials took place at The Hague, Saddam has been tried within his own country and by his own countrymen. But this has been far from satisfactory on a number of levels. The first trial judge resigned, complaining he was coming under political pressure, while a second judge was appointed but never sat. Three defense lawyers were also murdered. Against that backdrop it is unlikely the trial and its verdict will ever live down the tag that they are nothing more than "Green Zone" justice.

Of course, an international tribunal would have sentenced Saddam to life imprisonment rather than impose the death penalty. And yesterday various British and American politicians, including British Home Secretary John Reid, who is opposed to capital punishment in Britain, were wheeled out before the television cameras to insist the death sentence should stand because it was the verdict of an independent and sovereign judiciary, established by the constitution of a democratically elected government.

The only thing that may delay Saddam's date with the hangman is the fact he is also on trial for genocide for his role in the notorious Anfal massacres in 1988 in which at least 70,000 Kurds were killed. There are also a raft of other outstanding charges, including the gassing of Kurds in Halabja, the invasion of Kuwait (the act that fatally turned the West against him) and the subsequent brutal suppression of the 1991 Shiite uprising. There is also the killing of many of his political opponents.

However, the consensus seems to be that one guilty verdict is enough. Just don't expect it to make Iraq a better place. Saddam's ousting has opened up a Pandora's box of violence. His death will not suddenly close it.

About the Author: Michael Glackin is a freelance writer and the former managing editor of THE DAILY STAR.

More Information on International Justice
More Information on the Iraq Tribunal
More Information on the Consequences of the War and Occupation of Iraq


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