Hussein’s Conviction a Milestone for Iraq

(U-WIRE) LOS ANGELES — The trial of Saddam Hussein delivered a verdict this weekend, sentencing the former Iraqi dictator to death for crimes against humanity. Despite his request for a death by firing squad, Saddam Hussein will be put to death by hanging.

While also standing a second trial, Hussein was convicted of ordering the deaths of 148 Shiite men and boys in 1982 in the town of Dujail. The killings were a result of a failed assassination attempt against the dictator and were intended to serve as a warning to political opponents not to defy him. Hussein is still in the process of being tried for another crimes-against-humanity charge for the genocidal killing of 50,000 Iraqi Kurds in 1987 and 1988.

The former Iraqi dictator refused to stand for the delivery of his verdict and had to be brought to his feet by two court bailiffs. When the judge read the verdict, Hussein, shaking and defiant, repeatedly yelled “Allahu Akbar!” (“God is Greatest!”) and “Long live the nation!” Gunfire broke out across Baghdad in celebration and fighting occurred in the north of the city as a result. Shiites tended to be jubilant at the verdict they had long awaited.

Saddam was co-accused with other former Iraqi leaders. Awad Hamed al-Bander, former chief judge in Saddam’s Revolutionary Court, was sentenced to the same fate as Hussein along with Barzan al-Tikriti, Saddam’s half brother and head of the Iraqi Mukhabarat intelligence service. Taha Yassin Ramadan, former vice president, was sentenced to life in prison. Abdullah Kazim Ruwayyid, Mizher Abdullah Ruwayyid and Ali Dayih Ali, all former Baath Party officials, were given sentences of 15 years.

The appeals process for Saddam began Monday. The judges of appeal are to convene within 10 days, but a decision could take several months. If the appeal decision reaffirms Hussein was rightfully sentenced to death, his execution would follow within 30 days.

The trial of Saddam Hussein should not go down in history as a footnote, but an event where a dictatorship that assaults humanity is kept accountable for its actions. Although inconsistently applied to regimes around the world, accountability should be brought to those who commit war crimes against their own people. Moammar Qaddafi’s relinquishment of weapons shortly after the 2003 Iraqi invasion now looks like an intelligent move, as Hussein is now sentenced to the undignified hanging from a rope.

The European Union was quick to oppose the verdict, as it does not support any form of capital punishment, even for genocidal dictators. It is somewhat hypocritical that the international organization has openly stated its will on an issue where commitment in any other form is, at most, limited. Many countries voiced such concerns about the use of the death sentence, but stood by the right of Hussein to be tried by the Iraqi judicial system. British Foreign Secretary Margaret Beckett said, “It is right that those accused of such crimes against the Iraqi people should face Iraqi justice.”

Despite his conviction, however, Hussein’s legacy still remains in Iraq. Aided by Syria and Iran, insurgents still view Hussein as a leader, either dead or alive. It is the insurgency’s continued assaults that drove the Shiites to create death squads of their own that contribute to the “sectarian violence” so apparent in Baghdad. The Bush administration failed to maintain military and American public attention on the strategy of this enemy, and it has resulted in exploited sectarian divide and American public fickleness regarding the war.

The political fallout of Saddam’s verdict will probably be one of little significance. The news of the verdict comes very shortly before midterm elections, and it might not have time to diffuse throughout the minds of average voters. If at all, it will remind the voting public of the war in Iraq and not the more general war on terror, thus hurting the Republican campaign-messaging effort. It does, however, have ramifications in relation to U.S. troops. Even with a mismanaged aftermath, justice for Saddam Hussein is one noble legacy of the American commitment and sacrifice in Iraq.