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As you know, just two days before Americans go to the polls this November, a verdict is expected in (one of) Saddam Hussein's trial(s). He and his co-defendants are almost certain to get the death penalty.
You've got to be extraordinarily naïve to believe that the timing isn't intentional. For the last two news cycles before the vote, pundits will point to the verdict as a tangible sign of progress in Iraq, even as the country stands on the brink of falling into total chaos.
The trial's been driven by politics since its start. In January, the first judge to hear Saddam's case resigned because of the government's attempt to influence the proceedings. An Iraqi source told reporters: "He's under a lot of pressure. The whole court is under political pressure."
That pressure originates in Washington, and is transmitted via an occupation authority that is filled with Republican political hacks with no experience or qualifications to justify their appointments.
Of course, if anyone deserves the death penalty it's Saddam Hussein. Let's be clear on that point.
But the importance of Saddam the human being pales next to the significance of Saddam the dictator -- the leader who ordered the gassing of the Kurds, who drained the "Marsh Arabs'" marshes, who put down his opponents with remarkable cruelty, who ordered whole villages to be razed and under whom torture was almost as prevalent as it is in Iraq today. In order to get vengeance against Saddam the flesh-and-blood man -- and for the sake of the American electoral calendar -- Saddam the dictator will never see justice.
He'll be murdered. That's what extrajudicial killing is, and the trial of Saddam Hussein has always been a sham, a case of "victor's justice."
Occupation forces launched the proceedings even before an Iraqi government with a veneer of sovereignty was established. Three of Saddam's defense lawyers have been murdered, others have boycotted the proceedings and still others have been barred from the courtroom. According to Human rights Watch, defense counsel hasn't been allowed to consult with their clients; HRW expressed "concerns" over the proceedings' "inappropriate standard of proof and inadequate protections against self-incrimination." The defendants have alleged that they've been beaten in custody. They've been kicked out of the courtroom every time they open their mouths, probably because of fears that they'll remind people that the same country occupying them today was supporting Saddam during the worst of his abuses. There aren't adequate transcripts of the proceedings. After the first judge quit in response to political pressure, the government dismissed the second for being "too soft" on Hussein. Iraq's Prime Minister has publicly called for a swift execution before all the evidence has been presented and a guilty verdict rendered.
The occupation's supporters -- George Bush's "dead-enders" -- concede only that the process I've described is less than perfect. In fact, it's a sad joke -- a kangaroo court at which any self-respecting kangaroo would scoff. And it's not necessary for a conviction; Saddam Hussein would be found guilty of horrific crimes against humanity in any fair judicial proceeding.
The alternative would have been to ship his ass to The Hague, where a hundred mutilated bodies aren't showing up every day, and where Saddam's three lawyers, one of the prosecuting judges and his son and another judge's brother-in-law wouldn't have been gunned down in the streets. And there he could have gotten a fair trial that would have demonstrated to the world some of the best principles of liberal democracy: judicial independence, the right to a rigorous defense and the presumption of innocence until proven otherwise.
And then he would have been thrown in a cell to rot away for the rest of his years, a living testament to how far the mighty can fall when they commit brutal abuses against their own citizens.
The reasons that didn't come to pass were all ideological.* It was because of the administration's war against the International Criminal Court, part of its larger campaign against all of the institutions of global governance. Because of that campaign, because the ICC won't apply the death penalty and in order to reinforce the sham of Iraqi sovereignty, that option was never seriously on the table. So the hawks will will have the pleasure of seeing an old sadist killed, they'll be able to claim some small bright spot in an otherwise disastrous war and justice will be denied.
*There are very good reasons for keeping these kinds of trials in-country but they A) weren't the ones we heard, and B) aren't made when the country in question has no government.
Joshua Holland is a staff writer at Alternet and a regular contributor to The Gadflyer.