Friday, December 29, 2006

What's the Rush?

The New York Times thinks that there's a rush to execute Saddam Hussein - carrying out the sentence handed down by the Iraqi tribunal that determined he was guilty of murdering 148 people at Dujail.

It's been about three years since Saddam was captured by US forces. Saddam has not only faced a trial for crimes committed while he was the thug-in-charge in Iraq, but had an appeal heard (and denied). That's a legal process he denied his victims.

The real question is whether justice is delayed or denied by executing Saddam before the other trials for his crimes and whether the political considerations of waiting before the largest of the trials - the Anfal campaign trial - is brought to a close before carrying out the death sentence.

The Times writes:
What really mattered was whether an Iraq freed from his death grip could hold him accountable in a way that nurtured hope for a better future. A carefully conducted, scrupulously fair trial could have helped undo some of the damage inflicted by his rule. It could have set a precedent for the rule of law in a country scarred by decades of arbitrary vindictiveness. It could have fostered a new national unity in an Iraq long manipulated through its religious and ethnic divisions.
The Times seems to have quite a different take on what the criminal justice system is supposed to do. It is not about nurturing hope. It is about meting out justice and protecting society against those who have brought harm against it.

Yet, there may be good reason to delay the execution that has nothing to do with support or opposition to the death penalty.

It has to do with the enormity of the crimes that still remain to be heard.

Among the crimes awaiting or currently on the docket are the slaughter of more than 100,000 Kurds in the Anfal campaign. That bloody campaign included the use of chemical weapons, ethnic cleansing, and mass murder. There is good reason to delay the sentencing until after that trial is brought to conclusion.

There are good reasons to see that justice is carried out for the hundreds of thousands of Kurds who suffered at the hands of Saddam and his minions and this trial is potentially more significant than the trial just concluded due to the sheer number of people killed and affected by the Anfal campaign. The political dimensions of seeing that hundreds of thousands of Kurds are able to gain some measure of closure on that grisly chapter of their history should not be overlooked. It needs to be balanced with the operation of justice in the Dujail case.

Indeed, the US experience in dealing with crimes across multiple jurisdictions offers some guidance on what the Iraqi justice system should do. Consider the Beltway Sniper case, where the charges against John Allen Muhammad and Lee Malvo were brought in Virginia and Maryland for their murder spree around the Beltway.

The pair were first tried and convicted of murder in Virginia (where Muhammad now faces the death penalty and Malvo faces life in prison) but the pair were then extradited to Maryland where they were tried for their crimes in Maryland. The two will then be returned to Virginia for the carrying out of the sentences.

The Iraqi justice system could follow this model, by permitting the delay of the execution until after the Anfal trial is completed.

Yet, the Times is clearly siding with the likes of Ramsey Clark and others who think that the procedural difficulties were such that Saddam was not tried fairly. I disagree. Saddam was provided not only the opportunity to defend himself, but at times was able to use the trial as a podium from which to launch into tirades against the court, the US, and the Iraqi government that replaced his tyrannical rule. The tribunal operated under difficult circumstances, including assassinations and ongoing threats of physical violence, but managed to produce a just result.

It Shines for All thinks that Saddam should be sending thank you cards to the Times.

In the meantime, he remains in US custody. Saddam would have to be transferred to Iraqi custody in order for the sentence to be carried out.

Others commenting: Ed Morrissey and bRight and Early.

An Iraqi judge has called for Saddam to be executed tomorrow. Saddam's lawyers say that he's been transferred to Iraqi custody, which is the final step before Saddam heads to the gallows.

Dead at dawn? The execution is supposed to take place at 6AM Baghdad time or 10:00PM EST. Meanwhile, there is a report indicating that Saddam may be trying to get the US to block his execution. Good luck with that one.
Hussein's lawyers filed documents Friday afternoon asking for an emergency restraining order aimed at stopping the U.S. government from relinquishing custody of the condemned former Iraqi leader to Iraqi officials, a spokeswoman for a federal court in Washington D.C. said.

The documents were being processed and were not immediately made public. The Justice Department had not yet responded to the request.

A similar request by the former chief justice of the Revolutionary Court, Awad Hamed al-Bandar, was denied Thursday and is under appeal. Al-Bandar also faces execution. The Justice Department argued in that case that U.S. courts have no jurisdiction to interfere with the judicial process of another country.

Al-Bandar argued that his trial violated his rights under the U.S. Constitution but Justice countered that foreigners being tried in foreign courts are not protected by the U.S. Constitution.

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