Not Saussure

November 6, 2006

Why call it a trial?

Filed under: Iraq, Law — notsaussure @ 12:42 pm

One of the parts of the teaching of the Catholic Church

with which I have no difficulty is contained in paragraph 56 of John Paul II’s encyclical Evangelum Vitae

the nature and extent of the punishment must be carefully evaluated and decided upon, and ought not go to the extreme of executing the offender except in cases of absolute necessity: in other words, when it would not be possible otherwise to defend society. Today however, as a result of steady improvements in the organization of the penal system, such cases are very rare, if not practically non-existent

but I appreciate that others may well think differently.

However, I don’t think it’s open to dispute that, whatever the proceedings in Baghdad may have been, they in no way resembled a trial. Janet Daley, in the Telegraph, says

The phrase “kangaroo court” was reverberating through the studios – generally mouthed by the very people who had been insisting from the moment of Saddam’s capture that he be tried by Iraq itself and not by an international tribunal meting out “victor’s justice”. (I seem to recall the Today programme devoting hours to the subject of whether the Butcher of Baghdad could possibly get a fair trial under any proceeding organised by the US.)

The only possible response to that is, well, clearly he didn’t.

To my mind, it does no one any favours to pretend that Saddam’s execution will be the result of anything resembling due process before an impartial tribunal. It may well be popular, and some people may well consider it a just outcome. However, since one of the many objectionable features of dictatorial regimes is that the judicial system is hopelessly compromised, it seems to me very unfortunate that Iraq’s introduction to the world of an impartial judiciary and due process was something that not even the most credulous kangaroo would recognise as a proper trial.

Lynch him if that’s what people feel appropriate, and call it ‘popular retribution’ or something, but don’t try to make it out to be the result of anything we’d recognise as proper legal proceedings.

One of the complaints, I seem to recall, levelled against people who opposed ‘regime change’ was that we weren’t prepared to afford the Iraqis the benefits of democracy which we expect for ourselves. To my mind, a proper and impartial legal system, including fair trials even for people you know to be guilty, is an essential aspect of democracy, albeit one admittedly not greatly admired by our Beloved Leader.

Update: The Flying Rodent, who also opposes the death penalty on principle (and who very sportingly takes responsibility for having taken his eye off the ball while on holiday, thus letting things get this far), has

the perfect solution for this moral quandary – an evil dictator, a Shia majority baying for his blood, and the obvious involvement of American political pressure in his impending execution? How to keep even more blood being spilled on the flags of our nations?


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1 Comment »

  1. On the other hand, when has the trial of the defeated by the victors ever been anything but theatre? Starting in 1649, which is the earliest example I can think of, the purpose of such events has been to provide a platform for the new power to justify its existence by reciting the iniquities of the old. There was never any doubt that Charles I, or Louis XVI, or Goering, or Milosevic, would be found guilty if they survived the circus, but from the point of view of the prosecutors, that was beside the point.

    The difference in the case of Saddam is that, whereas in the other four cases – selected only because they’re well known – the country in question was offered serious instruction as to what the new national mythos was to be, in Iraq the production was so grossly mismanaged that the lessons learned are not those intended by the producers.

    Comment by chris y — November 6, 2006 @ 1:20 pm


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