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DLC | New Dem Dispatch | November 29, 2020
Tyranny On Trial

The on-again, off-again trial of Saddam Hussein for the mass murder of Iraqi civilians is far more important than the courtroom theater engineered by the deposed tyrant might immediately suggest.

For one thing, the trial is a reminder that the case for toppling Saddam was not simply about his alleged possession of weapons of mass destruction. This is a man who not only engaged in serial defiance of a carefully constructed international regime for ensuring he didn't gain WMD, but who also violated every globally recognized standard for respect of human rights, repeatedly and often proudly. Even those who believe the Iraq war was a mistake should recognize that removing Saddam from power was, and remains, an important accomplishment and an object lesson to other tyrants who believe they can do whatever they wish with their own subject populations.

But the trial is also a big test for the current Iraqi government, and for those elements of Iraqi society who suffered most from Saddam's crimes. There's strong sentiment among some Iraqi Shi'a that giving Saddam a fair trial is a sign of weakness. And indeed, the trial itself is being endangered by a wave of assassinations of defense attorneys and court officials, presumably engineered by those who believe Saddam should be given the kind of "justice" that he routinely practiced against political enemies and the restive populations they represented.

The tensions surrounding this trial, and the stakes involved in its proper conduct, were summed up by Kassim Daoud, a National Assembly member from Najaf, who told The Washington Post: "Within our culture, no one is happy with the trial. Everybody wants to see Saddam Hussein hanged immediately. But through this trial, we are giving a civilized example that justice is justice and we can do it in a civilized way."

That's exactly right. This is not just the trial of a tyrant -- a man who combined some of the worst traits of Hitler and Stalin -- but the trial of a system of tyranny he supervised and embodied. And if Iraq is to become a post-Saddam society governed by the rule of law, and reconciliation among its ethnic and religions factions, the conduct of this trial needs to transcend the past and help inaugurate a very different future for Iraq.

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Related Links Wash. Post: ''Hussein Is Unruly as Trial Resumes''

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