01 February 2006


Why Try Saddam

The Iraqi crimes-against-humanity trial of Saddam Hussein and his henchmen continued today, without Saddam et al. (registration required). It is not unreasonable to ask what the point of all this is: Surely even the most impartial of judges would find the evidence convincing, to seemingly arbitrary standards of proof, that the alleged massacre did, in fact, happen.

Just as we shouldn't forget that the yahoo Islamacists who want to kill us are human, very human, we shouldn't forget that Saddam, Pol Pot, Stalin, even Hilter, were, too, very human. Their crimes -- alleged or proved -- are not evidence of their monstrocity, but evidence of their humanity. Or, to put it another way, their monstrocity is an aspect of their humanity we would rather soon forget, but there it is, reminding us of what might lurk inside us in the wrong moment, the wrong place, the wrong crowd.

A gentleman from my hometown of Centerville, Tennessee, Douglas T. Bates, III, wrote eloquently on both his father, who was a lawyer to German defendants at Dachau trials, and his son, who recently served his country in Iraq here. His father was a grand man with a deep voice that rattled the bones. I remember discusing the poem "Abu Ben Adhem" -- saved by grace? or saved by acts? -- with him one Sunday years ago when I actually used to preach in our hometown Methodist church when the preacher had to be out of town. I think he, like me, sided on acts, as un-contemporary Christian, as that might be.

The words of Doug's father, Douglas T. Bates, II, defense lawyer to Nazis at Dachau, are in italics in Doug's column at the Offenberger (Iowa) site:
The surest safeguard against totalitarianism is uncompromising adherence to the administration of justice, which does not humor heart and revenge, but rather protects men from them – and before I go too far, it is necessary for me to presume that the court recognizes the 40 men who are defendants in this trial as men, not beasts.

If we want to shoot Germans as a matter of policy, let it be done as such. But don’t hide the deed behind the court. If you are determined to execute a man there is no occasion for a trial.

In the long run, the idea of law is our best defense against Nazism in all its forms.
So, we must ask ourselves: Do we support the Iraqis as they try Saddam as a pretense to execute him, or do we support them so that an honest rule of law can prevail. Even as I believe to the nth degree that he is guilty, I hope it remains the latter.

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