Along with trials, Iraq needs truth (Daniel Philpott, December 8, 2005, Boston Globe)
THE TRIAL of Saddam Hussein will likely result in his execution. Thus satisfied will be the Greek goddess of justice. Blind, with scales in her hand, she balances evil with justice, dollar for dollar, punishment equaling debts. It was her signature principle — retributive justice — that animated the trials of Nazi war criminals at Nuremberg, and trials following war, dictatorship, and genocide in Yugoslavia, East Germany, Greece, Argentina, and Rwanda. Only retribution for the ancient regime, claim the defenders of trials, can establish the rule of law in Iraq under its new Constitution.
But trials have their limitations. Politically they often backfire. Erich Honecker, the deposed premier of communist East Germany, arrived at his trial in the newly unified Germany pumping his fist in the air, decrying victors’ justice — and became more popular for it.
Trials rarely succeed in prosecuting more than a fraction of major perpetrators, even when they are lengthy and expensive. The International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda has spent more than $1 billion over eight years to produce 20 convictions — out of 125,000 alleged genocidaires awaiting trial. Political pressures frequently undermine verdicts. Due process, legal procedures, and adversarial incentives often hinder the public revelation of the truth about past injustices. Under pressure for a speedy execution, Saddam’s prosecutors may exclude from their case his colossal massacres of Shi’ites and Kurds, thus inhibiting their public exposure.
Most of all, trials will contribute little to the chief US foreign policy goal of a stable, democratic regime. The persistent hindrance is hatred.
All you really need to know about these dog-and-pony show trials is that the ones who insist on them are the same folks who oppose changing such regimes in the first place.