Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Hussein's Trial: Make It an Unabashed Media Event

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Hussein's Trial: Make It an Unabashed Media Event

Article excerpt

Last week, US officials announced that the ousted Iraqi leader, Saddam Hussein, is to be treated as an "enemy prisoner of war" (POW). A Pentagon spokesman said he was given the POW status because he was the leader of the "old regime's military forces."

POW status for Hussein means that the former Iraqi leader is eligible to stand trial for war crimes. The Geneva agreements say POWs can be tried for crimes against humanity only by an international tribunal or the occupying power, which in Iraq is the US. But the appropriate model for the trial is still in doubt. Is it the Nuremberg Tribunal, in which the four victorious nations of World War II - the US, Britain, France, and Russia - indicted 24 leaders of Nazi Germany? Is it the case of Adolf Eichmann, the Nazi technocrat of death, who was kidnapped from Argentina and tried before Israeli judges in Jerusalem for his role in facilitating the Holocaust? Or is it the ongoing trial of Slobodan Milosevic in The Hague by an international tribunal?

Whatever format is chosen to try Hussein, it must be another milestone in applying the principle of accountability. The Nuremberg trials left their mark on history because they exposed the Nazi machinery, the obedient system of evil and death. The Eichmann trial became an historical event due to the death camp survivors who came to tell their terrible stories about the gas chambers, the starvation, mass executions, torture, and "medical experiments." The trial of Milosevic is demonstrating how a single leader manipulated feelings of national identity into an engine of war that killed hundreds of thousands and disrupted the lives of millions.

The same expectations and the same premise should apply to Hussein's trial. It should be an international event that through some kind of international procedure will give worldwide exposure to the evils of Saddamism, not just of Saddam.

Such an event probably will - and should - become a "media event." Media events - including the funerals of President Kennedy and Lord Mountbatten, the royal wedding of Charles and Diana, the journeys of Pope John Paul II to Communist Europe and Anwar Sadat to Israel, the preelection debates of John Kennedy and Richard Nixon, the Watergate hearings in Congress, the revolutionary events of 1989 in Eastern Europe, and the Olympic Games - are broadcast live and attract large audiences. These media events bind the world in a common experience, in a manner impossible before the era of electronic communication.

However, unlike the Eichmann and the Milosevic trials that exposed crimes perpetrated by a strong nation or ethnic group against a weak one, Hussein's trial will expose crimes perpetrated by a dictatorial regime against its own countrymen and coreligionists. As far as is known now, Hussein's murder machine executed Nazi-style between 50,000 and 100,000 Kurds, many of them noncombatants. …

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