Wednesday, July 07, 2004


I spend several hours most days searching out stories about what is going on in Iraq.

I don't recall seeing more than the occasional passing article on this effort...which is too bad. This is much more worthy of attention than much of the junk the media fixates on.
I spent six months in Baghdad in 2003 working with Iraqis to devise a strategy for bringing Saddam Hussein and his cronies to account. Mr. Hussein's appearance before an Iraqi judge last week was the culmination of a remarkable collaboration between the American-led coalition and Iraqi jurists. It also marked an important new stage in the evolution of international justice.

For probably the first time in history a country will put its former leaders on trial under international criminal law in a locally constituted court. Unlike its United Nations-sponsored cousins in The Hague and Sierra Leone, the Iraqi Special Tribunal empowers local officials to bring the perpetrators of atrocity crimes to trial. International financing will go where it will do the most good — toward rebuilding Iraq's judiciary and ensuring that the victims of Mr. Hussein's regime are finally heard.

The coalition authority spent almost six months formulating tribunal plans with Iraqis. It organized working groups and conferences on subjects as diverse as truth and reconciliation commissions and forensic anthropology. Throughout these sessions, which were open to the public, one message came across loud and clear: Iraqis wanted to see Mr. Hussein tried by Iraqis.

Coalition advisers worked closely with Iraqi lawyers to ensure that the tribunal statute we created was in harmony with the latest developments in international criminal law. Much thought was also given to developing an investigative strategy that would help Iraqis make sense of a seemingly endless catalog of crimes — approximately 300,000 dead, and thousands more tortured, raped and otherwise abused over a period of more than 30 years...

It is vital that the cases heard by the tribunal address the full spectrum of the regime's atrocities. People all across Iraq experienced human rights abuses under Saddam Hussein. In a fragmented country, this is a rare unifying factor. The tribunal's defendants have been selected with an eye toward providing a thorough and representative accounting of these crimes.

Equally significant: defendants will face penalties under Iraqi law — not penalties deemed appropriate by the international community. There is little likelihood, then, that Mr. Hussein will live out his days in a comfortable Dutch prison. Nor will Iraqis have to suffer the absurdity of the so-called Rwandan paradox, where the worst that can befall mass murderers brought before the United Nations tribunal in Arusha, Tanzania, is life imprisonment while low-level offenders, brought before local courts in Rwanda, face the death penalty.

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