Saddam Should Face International Court

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the Seattle Post-Intelligencer

Saddam Should Face International Court

Saddam Hussein should be tried by the International Court of Justice at The Hague.

That court has a record of meting out justice to people accused of genocide and other gross violations of human rights.

A trial at The Hague would help the United States reassert its membership in the post-World War II community of collective security and win back the allies it shunned when President Bush ordered the invasion of Iraq.

Bush also could reaffirm the United States' past pledges to honor international law as framed in the United Nations Charter and various treaties.

Since he took office, Bush has shown little use for our past commitments to international covenants. Instead he projects an arrogant philosophy based on the notion that a military superpower can call all the shots.

The International Court was established to try dictators like Saddam for their heinous crimes.

It is where former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic in on trial for war crimes and genocide.

So Bush need look no further as he gropes for a venue to handle the Saddam case. There is a standing international court that deals with this kind of defendant.

Bush told a news conference Monday that his legal advisers would work with the 25-member U.S.-appointed Iraqi Governing Council to fashion a way to bring Saddam to trial "that will stand up to international scrutiny."

A trial at The Hague would meet that standard and would be perceived as above reproach. There is no need to invent a new court.

At his news conference, Bush said of the trial: "Of course we want it to be fair. And of course, we want the world to say, 'Well, this -- he got a fair trial.' "

Bush wouldn't say whether he thought Saddam should face the death penalty. "My personal views aren't important in this matter," he declared. "What matters is the views of the Iraqi citizens."

That was Monday. On Tuesday, Bush dropped the veil and called for a death sentence against Saddam.

In an interview with ABC News, Bush said Saddam should face "the ultimate penalty for his crimes" against the Iraqi people and the world.

"I think he ought to receive the ultimate penalty," Bush said.

A free and independent press is essential to the health of a functioning democracy

This comes as no surprise to anyone who has followed Bush's career as governor of Texas. He gave no mercy to death-row inmates and presided over the executions of 152 inmates during his six years in office.

In the case of Saddam, Bush should have stayed on the high road that he took during his news conference Monday instead of pre-judging the outcome of the trial and the punishment.

Many European countries and the head of the United Nations oppose the death penalty. Bush's enthusiasm for the ultimate penalty is a further sign of the estrangement between the United States and the rest of the world.

Bush has a personal grudge against Saddam. "He tried to kill my daddy," Bush once said, referring to a car bomb targeted for his father in Kuwait in 1993. The FBI linked the would-be bomb to Iraqi intelligence.

History shows that it was not only the Iraqis who suffered under Saddam -- it was also the people of Kuwait and Iran who were ravaged as a result of his military invasions. Because his crimes were international, the International Court of Justice should preside over his trial.

If the U.S. military government in Baghdad decides to run a show trial as part of a propaganda exercise, with hand-picked Iraqi jurists and a carefully written American script, we will have made a mockery of our own sense of justice.

The trial should be open and on the record for the world to see. That may present an embarrassing problem to the United States.

During the Cold War days, we were cozy with a lot of dictators -- as long as they were anti-communist. Corrupt? Tyrannical? Not a problem.

Saddam used to be our friend -- we were especially happy to have him take on Iran when Ayatollah Khomeini was running the Islamic Republic.

American businesses were firmly established in Iraq in that era. The Reagan administration tilted toward Iraq in the Iraq-Iran war, even to the extent of sharing U.S. intelligence with Saddam.

Bush says he's concerned about the appearance of justice. If that's the case, then he should lead the way for the deposed Iraqi dictator to be tried by an independent war crimes tribunal at The Hague. That option would clear up the appearance problems created by a tribunal that is an appendage of the U.S. occupation authority in Iraq.

Helen Thomas

Helen Thomas was an American author and former news service reporter, member of the White House Press Corps and columnist. She worked for the United Press International (UPI) for 57 years, first as a correspondent, and later as White House bureau chief. She was an opinion columnist for Hearst Newspapers from 2000 to 2010, writing on national affairs and the White House. Among other books she was the author of Front Row at The White House: My Life and Times. Helen passed away on July 20, 2013.

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