Justice for Hussein

Published January 13, 2004, News Current

For months, the two big questions in Iraq were: One, where are the weapons of mass destruction? Two, where is Saddam Hussein?

One of those questions was finally answered just before Christmas when the former dictator was pulled, dirty and worn out, from a hole in the ground near his own hometown of Tikrit.

Mr. Hussein had been driven from power six months earlier by the United States and its allies. After years of defiance, he had slipped off into hiding after U.S. troops took over Iraq’s capital city of Baghdad.

Soldiers searching for Mr. Hussein spent months questioning those who worked for him. Finally they got the information that took them to a rundown farm north of Baghdad. There they discovered the hole in the ground—about eight feet deep and covered with a piece of foam—where Iraq’s old leader was hiding.

Iraqis celebrated in the streets when they heard the news of the capture. Mr. Hussein had brought death to thousands of Iraqis and spread fear through the whole country. The fear had not disappeared even after he had been run out of Baghdad.

Around the world people shared in the Iraqis’ relief. And they began discussing a new question: How should justice be carried out against such a tyrant?

Some argued that Mr. Hussein’s trail should be held outside Iraq. They said he might not receive a fair trial in the country he had harmed so much. Others thought the prisoner should go on trial before a group of some Iraqi judges and some judges from other countries.

But many of the people of Iraq wanted to hold the trial of Saddam Hussein themselves. Just days before the capture, Iraq’s interim government had created a set of rules for judging people accused for especially bad crimes. Iraq’s leaders said Mr. Hussein could be tried under those rules.

President Bush agreed that the trial should be held by Iraqis. But the U.S. government did not give details about how such a trial would be handled.

For now, Mr. Hussein is being held in a secret location, where U.S. intelligence officials are questioning him. They want to know about weapons he may have hidden. And they want information about the continuing attacks in Iraq that are slowing down its recovery.

Navigating the News

Editorial by Katrina Costello

Who should try former dictator Saddam Hussein?

Some don’t think Iraq is up to the job on its own. A trial of Saddam Hussein is a complicated thing, they say. Many countries will be watching and want to see that justice is done.

Iraq does not have the criminal experts or experienced lawyers to hold a fair trial, such critics worry. Besides, Iraqis may want to put Mr. Hussein to death. Many countries are opposed to the death penalty.

It is true that the trial of Mr. Hussein will be an important one. It’s also true that God himself does not make the carrying out of justice so complicated.

In the Old Testament God gave his people rules for how they were to punish crimes. Trials and punishments, according to God’s law, were to be carried out in public. That way everyone could see whether they were fair.

And guilt was not usually decided by lawyers or experts. Instead, God said, for a person to be found guilty, at least two witnesses had to testify the person had committed a crime.

The people of Iraq are prepared to hold an open trial for Saddam Hussein. They will call witnesses: Iraqis who were the victims of his crimes. The world may watch and it may give advice—but delivering justice to Iraq’s dictator is the job of Iraq’s people.