Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Even Saddam deserves a fair trial

Saddam Hussein goes on trial tomorrow for crimes against humanity over the 1982 Dujail massacre. While I'm looking forward to this, and believe that Saddam has no defence under international law, I am concerned that justice may not be done. The most basic problem is the standard of proof: rather than the accepted standard of "proof beyond a reasonable doubt", the tribunal simply has to be "satisfied" of guilt. This is a significant violation of fundamental standards of justice.

Why does this matter? Two reasons spring to mind. The first is that, despite the fact that he is a monster, even Saddam deserves a fair trial. The Nazis got one, and I don't think he's any viler or less deserving of proper justice than them. The second is that any deviation from fundamental standards of justice undermines the credibility of the trial, and hence of its judgements. If we want the judgements to stick, and if we want international law and the idea of trials for crimes against humanity to be credible, Saddam's trial must be conducted according to the highest standards, and he must be given every opportunity to defend himself properly. Anything else, and his apologists will always be able to claim that the trial was just a show, and its judgements "victor's justice". And, in a sense, they'll be right.

But there's also another reason why we shouldn't use a lower standard of proof in Saddam's case: it would be unnecessary. The evidence of Saddam's crimes is so overwhelming that I don't think there's any doubt about his guilt. The only question is what he is actually convicted of - Dujail, Halabja, the Al-Anfal campaign in general, or any of his other atrocities. What those who support a lower standard of proof are really saying is that they doubt the strength of the case against Saddam, and so they need to stack the deck against him to secure a conviction. Which makes you wonder why they're bothering with the pretence of justice at all...


I have no problem at all with the "lower standard" approach; it sets the precedent for when we get Bush and Blair into the dock.

Posted by Anonymous : 10/19/2005 08:19:00 PM

Anon: While I wan tto see Bush and Blair on trial for their war of aggression, the same credibility argument applies to them. International justice must be exactly that - justice - rather than a kangaroo court used to punish history's losers.

Posted by Idiot/Savant : 10/20/2005 01:43:00 AM

BBC reports that Saddam's trial has been adjourned until 28th November. it's not as long as the defence wanted, but it at least gives them some time to prepare their case.

Posted by Idiot/Savant : 10/20/2005 01:45:00 AM

These Kurdish/Iraqi women, standing in line to vote look pretty happy with Bush.

Posted by Muerk : 10/20/2005 12:03:00 PM

And there were plenty people happy with Saddam too, but this doesn't make his actions any less destructive or illegal.

Posted by Anonymous : 10/21/2005 08:58:00 PM