Hussein: From Pedestal to Tribunal ; Iraqi Leaders Say an Iraqi Court Will Try Hussein for His Brutal Regime, but the Process Could Prove Complicated

By Howard LaFranchi and Warren Richey writers of The Christian Science Monitor | The Christian Science Monitor, December 15, 2003 | Go to article overview

Hussein: From Pedestal to Tribunal ; Iraqi Leaders Say an Iraqi Court Will Try Hussein for His Brutal Regime, but the Process Could Prove Complicated


Howard LaFranchi and Warren Richey writers of The Christian Science Monitor, The Christian Science Monitor


In the end the tyrant from Tikrit was found in a hideout hole in the ground, just outside the Iraqi city from which he rose to power.

In Iraq and the Middle East, awareness of the state to which one of the most fearsome and bloody dictators of the 20th century was reduced when he was captured is important. It will further the job of pulling Saddam Hussein from his pedestal - a process that began when his statues were tumbled last April.

But now that Saddam Hussein is in American military hands, the crucial task of his demythification will be completed only with a tribunal that will try him for the crimes attributed to him.

That trial will seek to render some sense of justice to the Iraqi people who suffered under his rule for more than 30 years. Although US officials in Iraq said Sunday the specifics of bringing Mr. Hussein to justice were only starting to be worked out, Iraqi leaders said Hussein would be tried in an Iraqi court - perhaps in the court just created last week by the US-appointed Iraqi Governing Council (IGC) to handle the crimes of the former regime.

Adnan Pachachi, who holds the IGC's revolving presidency this month, says an Iraqi civilian court will try Hussein for crimes against humanity and war crimes. He and other Iraqi leaders characterized the trial as "showing the world the democracy and freedom of the new Iraq," and that it would not be a trial for revenge, but a "just trial."

Even given Hussein's global reputation for cruelty, it will be crucial for Iraq's future and for the historical value of the trial that it be perceived in Iraq and the region as fair, experts say. A trial presents certain pitfalls as well, in particular for the US. For starters, there's the tricky question of how to treat America's former ties with the dictator it eventually deposed.

Still, a trial will serve the important purpose of reminding both Iraqis and the world of what Hussein was in Iraq, in the region, and in the pantheon of 20th century dictators. "Even in a region where competition is particularly tough for how terrible and brutal a dictator can be, Saddam ruled supreme at the top of the list," says Bruce Jentleson, a Middle East expert at Duke University.

Hussein will be remembered for gruesome acts against his own people, from the gassing of Iraqi Kurds in the 1980s to more recent attempts at genocide of Iraqi Shiites in the country's southern marshes. But many experts say Hussein stands out for two defining aspects of his rule: his longevity as either the power behind the scenes or the autocratic ruler in Iraq, and the particularly vindictive and personal nature of his cruelty. Hussein was officially in power from 1979, when he became president, but his de facto rule began with the rise of the Baath Party to power in 1968. He was a hands-on tyrant like few others.

To illustrate this trait, a story is told in the Middle East comparing Hussein to Hafez al-Assad, the late Syrian dictator.

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