WASHINGTON – The “trial of the millennium” should be held in Iraq,a panel of educators and researchers agreed Thursday,although they disagreed about what the punishment should be.
The legal fate of Saddam Hussein,who was declared an enemy prisoner of war by the Pentagon on Friday,was the subject of a debate sponsored by American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research.
Hussein is accused of genocide,war crimes and crimes against humanity. As a POW,the former Iraqi president is protected by the Geneva Convention,which guarantees him proper food,water,shelter,hygiene and medical treatment.
Contrary to some reports circulating in the mass media,Hussein's protection under the Geneva Convention does not preclude a trial in Iraq,said Tom Malinowski,Washington advocacy director for Human Rights Watch.
In this “trial of the millennium,” Malinowski said,the way the trial is conducted will set a precedent for establishing a rule of law in Iraq and determine whether Iraq will be able to sustain a democracy.
Additionally,Hussein's trial presents the opportunity to convince the world,including countries that opposed Operation Iraqi Freedom,that the U.S.-led invasion produced positive results,Malinowski said.
Malinowski said the death penalty is “tremendously unpopular” among U.S. allies and could divide coalition members. He said a lack of economic resources in Iraq means the United States likely would finance Hussein's punishment.
“I would argue that taking someone who was God for 30 years and putting him in prison in Iraq until the end of his natural life is the ultimate punishment,” Malinowski said.
Larry Rothenberg,a fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies,said an Iraqi tribunal with capital punishment as an option would be the best way to provide vindication to more than 20 million Iraqis who lived under Hussein's regime.
“If it were up to me,Saddam Hussein would be executed 300,000 times,one for every victim,” Rothenberg said,referring to the 300,000 murders Hussein is accused of.
One Kurdish woman,who fled Iraq in 1982,said during a telephone interview that many Iraqis would like to see Hussein tortured and put to death.
“I would rather see him die and just forget about him,and close that chapter of my life,” said Thuria Mossa,an Arabic instructor at Kansas State University in Manhattan,Kan. “We have to start the new Iraq,and everything has to be new.”
Mossa,who said three of her cousins are buried in a mass grave in Iraq,reflected on the pain her homeland had endured. Entire families were destroyed,Mossa said,so she feels “lucky” to not have suffered a greater loss.
She said Hussein's trial should be held in Iraq.
“We have intelligent judges; there is no way they are going to let their emotions affect their judgment,” Mossa said. “Each Iraqi has the right to make a judgment.”
Mossa said the day of Hussein's capture felt like a birthday.
Now,the Iraqis should have jurisdiction over the matter,she said.
“Some of the Arab lawyers are saying under the law,[the United States] kidnapped Saddam,” Mossa said. “I feel like if we have other international lawyers,they will show their muscles and say ‘this is right,' or ‘this is wrong,' and they will drag it out. The trial shouldn't be more than a few months.”