Monday, November 06, 2006

Count me out

1. Free Saddam? Well, probably not. But when three of his defense attorneys are murdered during the trial, and the chief judge is forced to resign because of political pressure, a.k.a. fear... well, it's not exactly a high point in the history of jurisprudence. As the Human Rights Watch page to which you linked points out, the Iraqi tribunal doesn't even have a requirement for proof beyond a reasonable doubt.

You say that my objections are useless, and the real question is whether international and Iraqi law allow the court to sentence Saddam to death. You've got it ass-backwards. From a practical standpoint, it doesn't matter if the legal right exists. What, are EU troops going to extradite the judges to the Hague and put them on trial? What matters are issues of perception, and while I agree that the court system is a brave exercise in creating Iraqi institutions, it could certainly have been done better. Sentencing Saddam to death without an actual verdict, and not requiring proof beyond a reasonable doubt, lowers the percieved legitimacy of the trial.


2. Execution=taxes=gun control. Riiiight.

What is totalitarianism? Here's a not-bad definition, from Merriam-Webster:
Main Entry: to·tal·i·tar·i·an·ism
1 : centralized control by an autocratic authority
2 : the political concept that the citizen should be totally subject to an absolute state authority


You can't, in any logically consistent way, support the death penalty without agreeing to the concept in part 2 above.

Execution is an exercise of absolute state authority, in a way that taxes or gun control simply aren't. Death is absolute.

If a state claims or exercises absolute authority over its subjects, then it's a totalitarian state.
If a state does not claim or exercise absolute authority over its subjects, then it's not a totalitarian state.

There are a lot of things totalitarian states do that other states do, too -- send mail, build roads, shoot fireworks on national holidays. What makes a state totalitarian is absolute state power over its subjects.

On a side note, did you just quote H.L. Mencken for moral authority? Niiiice.

And if you do, in fact, "want to see the plan," the Human Rights Watch link provided a few posts ago has some decent ideas on how a better-structured trial court would have looked.

2 comments:

Dr. Duke Nukem said...

Of course the trial could have been run better. The entire country could have been run better, but unfortunately the Iraqis don't have the luxury of being in a stable democracy right now. I provided the Human Rights Watch link for a perspective - however, Human Rights Watch isn't really the best authority to consult for the trial of a former dictator in a country with no stable civil order.

On the one hand, the court has an obligation to try Saddam. Whether or not it has an obligation to find Saddam guilty, is debatable. But the court has an obligation to try Saddam as best as possible, given the circumstances. It hasn't done that perfectly, but it's done it well enough.

So, I agree that the percieved legitimacy of the trial is important. Perception is the key issue. The way we question the trial's legitimacy here, from the perspective of Western legal tradition, is different from the way it might be question by Iraqis, who view it as yet another decision that directly affects their lives but it completely beyond their control. That's a real issue. Whether or not the trial was in accord with the ideal, Platonic form of "justice" is irrelevant to the immediate situation.

I'm not sure what you mean by suggesting that EU troops extradite the judges...are they committing a war crime? What is it exactly you're against? That Saddam is on trial? That his trial wasn't 100% perfect? Or that he was found guilty? I think you're confused about what it means for the judges to have a legal right to sentence Saddam to death - that refers to the verdicts legitimacy, not whether the judges can be arrested and tried.

And what the deuce are you driving at with this totalitarianism thing? In a criminal trial, in a democracy, you are tried by a group of peers, assumed innocent until proven guilty, given every chance to prove yourself innocent (beyond a shadow of a doubt, as you say) and then sentenced by a judge. Only in specific instances does the state mandate a particular punishment for a particular crime - i.e. death penalty for traitors. Even when death is the verdict, a person can appeal a death sentence - this has happened in the U.S. on many occasions.

I think I see what you might be getting at, and there may be an interesting argument there somewhere, but you're missing a few hundred steps in going from "A" to "B". You're making some assumptions for the criteria of "totalitarian" behavior that would include pretty much anything the state does. Hence the question about whether taxes and gun control are also totalitarian. Now, if what makes it totalitarian is that it concerns the state's ability to determine whether a citizen lives or dies, you have an even stranger criteria.

Also, now Mencken's not good enough for you either. Who are you? Jesus? Buddha? Jesse Helms? The love child of Jesus, Buddha and Jesse Helms?

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