The capture of Saddam Hussein is a double-edged sword for the United States, its allies, and the Arab world in general. The Americans face the conundrum of whether to set up another international tribunal on war crimes (the current one is specific to the former Yugoslavia), to drag the Iraqi dictator to the United States, or to place Hussein on trial in Iraq.
Hauling Saddam before a war crimes tribunal in Geneva will give the former dictator an international stage and the means to embarrass his captors. For years, the United States maintained close relations with Hussein, supplying Iraq with weapons that included the poison gas used against the Iranian army in the 1980s, and later against the Iraqi Kurds.*nbsp; In addition, Hussein will testify how he had bribed dozens of international officials and politicians, both in the West and in the Middle East. He may even expose possible business contacts between the Bush family and Iraq.
A trial in the United States holds the prospect of a circus-like atmosphere. A trial in either the U.S. or Geneva will be lengthy, accompanied by hordes of media giving Hussein the opportunity to adopt a heroic posture for the benefit of not just the Iraqis but for the entire Muslim community. Some of the top U.S. defense attorneys, no doubt with links to the Democratic Party, will gladly offer their services to defend the former dictator and secure for themselves a national and international stage. Under these circumstances, Hussein will be able to exploit the American judicial system, which is weighted in favor of the defendant, to stall, delay, and drag out the process for as long as possible.
What else has he to do? Attention and an exaggerated sense of self-worth drive Hussein*#8217;s ego, without a stage, he is as good as dead. He cannot follow in Milosevic*#8217;s footsteps and attempt to orchestrate events in his own country because unlike the Serb leader, Hussein does not seem to exercise any control over the remnants of the Baath Party or the burgeoning Iraqi resistance. Finally, trying Hussein in the U.S. will smack of victor*#8217;s justice.
All these options are fraud with serious consequences. However, at least a trial in Iraq has the advantage of convincing the Iraqi people that the Hussein regime is finally defeated.*nbsp; The end of the war left Iraq in chaos. The Hussein regime simply collapsed; no formal surrender or treaty signifying the defeat of Iraq took place. Hussein*#8217;s grip over the country was not only shattered, but disintegration came about quickly, almost too rapidly for the notion of total defeat to take hold.
Yet, as was dramatically demonstrated on the day of his capture, a car bomb went off killing another U.S. soldier, and it is more than likely that numerous acts of terrorism will accompany the trial proving that Hussein is irrelevant to the ongoing Iraqi resistance. Despite these liabilities, the trial of Hussein in Iraq will confront the brutal dictator with the people he has abused and tortured for decades. Major trials are often show case events, but they can help to instigate a catharsis.
Saddam on trial in Baghdad will finally enable the Iraqis to have closure with respect to the Hussein era and they can begin to come to terms with the past. This was not the case with Milosevic in the former Yugoslavia. The Serbs did not have the occasion to try to punish their dictator, which combined with the economic disaster caused by the U.S. and NATO bombing, is fueling a new Balkan mythology.
The recent election in Serbia rewarded the extreme nationalist party of Vojislav Seseljs, another indicated war criminal, with 81 seats, not sufficient to form a majority government, but more than the pro-Western parties. In the same election, Milosevic as well as Vojislav Sesslj topped the electoral lists and it is improbable that the former dictator may actually receive a seat in the Serb Parliament. Milosevic*#8217;s popularity was partly the failure of the U.S. and its NATO allies to resuscitate the Serb economy, which has created nostalgia for the past and the fact that dictators trial simply offered him a pulpit.
The U.S. has to display a generosity of spirit, which it failed to show in the case of Serbia, and permit the Iraqis to clean their own house. Hussein must be tried in an Iraqi court, by Iraqi law, lawyers and prosecutors and ultimately face Iraqi and not American justice.
The U.S. officials may hesitate to try Hussein in Iraq fearing that it will prove that the resistance in Iraq is not directly linked to the former dictator. Nevertheless, if the Americans hope to win the hearts and minds of the Iraqi they must prove that the U.S. is prepared to offer them a measure of trust.
Andre Gerolymatos is Professor and Chair of Hellenic Studies at Simon
Fraser University in Vancouver.