Thursday, January 19, 2006

Lessons Not Learned: The Saddam Trial

Today I listened to a lecture on the Saddam Hussein trial by David Scheffer, a visiting professor at Northwestern Law and a CNN legal analyst. Interesting stuff, but I came away from it wondering why it is that judges, prosecutors and other legal folks working on these crimes against humanity trials don't learn many of the lessons from the previous tribunals.

For now it looks like Saddam will follow the Slobodan Milosevic book on hijacking his trial for political reasons. Come on, when was the last time you read about Slobo's trial, which is still going on and on and on?

So, first blame the Americans. Check. Second, question the legitimacy of the tribunal. Check. Then rant and scream and complain about everything, including the lack of clean underwear. Check.

Next thing on the list -- and don't be surprised if this happens soon -- start complaining about your blood pressure or other ailments to delay the trial. (By the way, Slobo wants to get some medical treatment in Russia). Who knows, maybe with the new lead judge there will be less of this, but for now, it looks like this will take years, just like with Slobo.

On top of allowing the defendant to dominate the proceedings, another significant mistake seems to be starting with a lesser charge. I realize that this might be a trial run, but why not nail Saddam with one of the bigger crimes, especially gassing of the Kurds.

Finally, while in the Slobo trial there is one defendant doing a good job at making the trial excruciatingly long, at the Saddam trial there are 11 additional defendants to make things even more complicated.

This trial is crucial for the Iraqis to see how evil Saddam was. I hope it won't turn out to be as messy as Slobo's, for the sake of the Iraqis and the world.

One interesting tidbit from Prof. Scheffer. Don't be surprised to see Tariq Aziz as a key prosecution witness.

Oh, and don't get me started on Ramsey Clark...

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