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Friday, December 26, 2003


against great evil, a fair trial's value is highest

posted by Aziz P. at Friday, December 26, 2003 permalink View blog reactions
Professor Juan Cole, an expert on the mideast and Iraq, was recently interviewed about the issue of where to try Saddam, and had this to say about the value of a fair trial:

Q: Is it possible for him to get a fair trial?

A: That's another issue. One of the persons who is calling for a war crimes tribunal in Iraq is Shiite leader Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, current president of the interim Governing Council. Sixty-three members of his family were killed by Saddam Hussein. I'm willing to concede that the man is an upright man, but I don't know if saints exist to that extent in the world where he has no sense of vindictiveness about this. That's a problem that a lot of the people involved in this have talked about, and for those reasons I really think it is important that any trial occurs in The Hague.

Q: Are there other reasons why any trial should be conducted by the existing format of international war crimes tribunals?

A: There has never been such a tribunal in Iraq before. It's being created from scratch, most of the judges with long experience in Iraq are Baathists and there's no constitution in Iraq. Under what statutes can he be tried?

Q: Does it matter if he gets a fair trial?

A: I think it does matter. First, Saddam still has supporters, and to satisfy those supporters, it's important that any trial is conducted through a fair process. Otherwise, it could be construed that he was treated unfairly.

I also think it's important for Iraq. If there is going to be a new Iraq, it must be founded on the principles of law and fairness. It would not [. . .] bode well that the country's first act would be to railroad someone even as despised as Saddam Hussein.

The point is important because it is fundamental to the integrity of our justice system (and what separates us from brute force governments like that of the Taliban, where the "moral" verdict is often twisted to suit political and religo-fanatic ends).

The case for Saddam should be required to be rigorous enough that it can withstand any scrutiny - and prove conclusively the fact of Saddam's guilt beyond any possible objection by partisan Baathists or other sympathizers/apologists for his evil regime.

The same is true of Osama bin Laden - for whom a fair trial is equally if not even more important. A fair trial for Osama - made rigorous and airtight - will help make our case to the Arab world that OBL is not their advocate, but rather a liar and a heretic, who has abused Islam. Only a fair trial can make such conclusions rigorous - and this is essential if we are to succeed in remaking the Middle East.

Howard Dean gets it:

The Monitor asked: Where should Osama bin Laden be tried if he's caught? Dean said he didn't think it made any difference, and if he were president he would consult with his lawyers for advice on the subject.

But wouldn't most Americans feel strongly that bin Laden should be tried in America - and put to death?

"I've resisted pronouncing a sentence before guilt is found," Dean said. "I still have this old-fashioned notion that even with people like Osama, who is very likely to be found guilty, we should do our best not to, in positions of executive power, not to prejudge jury trials. So I'm sure that is the correct sentiment of most Americans, but I do think if you're running for president, or if you are president, it's best to say that the full range of penalties should be available. But it's not so great to prejudge the judicial system."

This a noble statement. It is, in a nutshell, why we are better than thugs like Saddam or Osama bin Laden and why any nation built upon their principles inevitably fails or is defeated.

It is also fodder for moral cowards such as Matt Drudge, who has linked to the Concord Monitor story with the astonishingly disingenous and almost-defamatory headline "Dean not ready to pronounce Osama bin Laden guilty..." - in red text to make it stand out all the more.

Arthur Silber acidly comments on the sick mindset of such creatures to which Drudge panders:

Wow. Dean resists "pronouncing a sentence before guilt is found." He doesn't think that executive power should be used to "prejudge" individuals -- and perhaps incarcerate them on an open-ended basis, without recourse to counsel or to any court at all, or even to execute them.

Why, it's positively unAmerican! Dean is a traitor! Hang him! First execution, then verdict, then trial. That's the American way, at least it appears it would be if this administration, led by a would-be King George, had its way. And I have no doubt, no doubt at all, that the majority of people seeing Drudge's vicious little headline will view it the way Drudge apparently does -- and probably they will cling to that view even after reading the entire story. It's much more comforting than the actual facts, don't you know. It goes so nicely with their comic book view of the world.

And Atrios already has a great rejoinder that I hope Dean uses if challenged on this:

And, if asked about this Dean should say something along the lines of "How dare you question my desire to bring the 9/11 perpetrators to trial. I've been saying for months we need to devote our efforts to getting Bin Laden. It's absolutely un-American to suggest that anyone, no matter how heinous the crime or obvious the guilt, doesn't and shouldn't deserve a fair trial under our Judicial system, as our Founders, in their wisdom, desired.

That's the right attitude - to refuse to be bound by the moral cowards' attempts at defining the debate. The response from the Bush Apologist camp has been previewed - it remains to be seen if the Democratic challengers to Dean take up the bait as well.


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About Nation-Building

Nation-Building was founded by Aziz Poonawalla in August 2002 under the name Dean Nation. Dean Nation was the very first weblog devoted to a presidential candidate, Howard Dean, and became the vanguard of the Dean netroot phenomenon, raising over $40,000 for the Dean campaign, pioneering the use of Meetup, and enjoying the attention of the campaign itself, with Joe Trippi a regular reader (and sometime commentor). Howard Dean himself even left a comment once. Dean Nation was a group weblog effort and counts among its alumni many of the progressive blogsphere's leading talent including Jerome Armstrong, Matthew Yglesias, and Ezra Klein. After the election in 2004, the blog refocused onto the theme of "purple politics", formally changing its name to Nation-Building in June 2006. The primary focus of the blog is on articulating purple-state policy at home and pragmatic liberal interventionism abroad.