Brilliant commentary on the Saddam capture and ... how sour that revenge will be. I know it is heavy reading, but I excerpted a good part of it anyway.
"Revenge Is Sour” is the title that George Orwell gave to a short essay on war-crimes trials, written just after the Second World War. “The whole idea of revenge and punishment is a childish day-dream,” he argued. “Properly speaking, there is no such thing as revenge. Revenge is an act which you want to commit when you are powerless and because you are powerless: as soon as the sense of impotence is removed, the desire evaporates also.” He cited the story of an old woman reported to have fired five shots into the body of Benito Mussolini, one for each of her dead sons. “I wonder how much satisfaction she got out of those five shots, which, doubtless, she had dreamed years earlier of firing,” Orwell wrote. “The condition of her being able to get near enough to Mussolini to shoot at him was that he should be a corpse.”
If revenge is psychologically impossible, justice is politically necessary—not the fantasy of righting monumental wrongs but the reality of holding wrongdoers to account. The twentieth century came and went without justice. None of the century’s great totalitarians ever had to sit at a defense table, confer with lawyers, rise with the court when the judge entered the room. Mussolini was lynched; Hitler committed suicide; Stalin, Mao, and Pol Pot died in old age. Two international tribunals are currently grinding away at more recent crimes; but the Hutu propagandists convicted of genocide in Rwanda last month were barely known outside that country, and Slobodan Milosevic was a second-tier dictator. The trial of Saddam Hussein will be the first of a world-class mass murderer. The number of potential counts against Saddam exceeds half a million. Behind the Kurdish, Shiite, and Sunni Arab Iraqis who were his principal victims stand Iranians and Kuwaitis with war-crimes charges of their own. Saddam imposed his name, his face, and his will on Iraqi history to a degree that makes lesser cults of personality seem like ordinary narcissism. The symbolic importance of his trial is exactly proportionate to his vast power.
Ann Clwyd, Tony Blair’s special representative to Iraq, proclaimed, using American jargon, that Saddam’s capture would bring “some kind of closure” to Iraqis. This thinking recalls the Bush Administration’s original idea of a simple war of liberation, and shows as little grasp of the reality of Iraqis’ lives. The insurgency against American and coalition forces gives no sign of relenting. Its inspirational leader has been ignobly caught, but guerrilla wars are seldom centrally controlled, the foreign occupiers remain in Iraq as targets, and the prospect of a more representative government is as threatening as ever to the privileged status of the country’s Sunni Arabs. Nothing has been closed. Certain things, though, might now be opened. Large numbers of Iraqis—perhaps a silent majority—have had no desire to see a return to Baathist rule, but they have had little faith in the Americans’ ability to prevent it and no way to protect themselves. Until now they’ve held back, almost literally staying home while chaos spreads in the streets and determined religious sectarians make bids for power. For these Iraqis, Saddam’s demotion from mythic evil to the shabby figure who emerged from his hole sputtering, “I am Saddam Hussein, president of Iraq, and I am willing to negotiate,” could lift a long shadow and mark the start of civic life.
The political direction that post-Saddam Iraq will take depends partly on the way Saddam himself is shown the exit. A few days before his capture, the Iraqi Governing Council announced the formation of a special court, to be run by Iraqis but with international support—a new model in the field of such tribunals. The court’s jurisdiction will cover all members of Saddam’s government accused of genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity, and lesser offenses under Iraqi law. With High-Value Target No. 1 now in detention, Iraqi officials are talking about beginning proceedings against him as early as this spring. Saddam’s C.I.A. interrogators won’t hand him over immediately, but, in keeping with the Bush administration’s new policy of accelerating the return of sovereignty to the Iraqis, the occupation authority seems prepared to accept the Governing Council’s terms. American officials in Baghdad and international legal experts regard one another with suspicion; most outsiders doubt the legitimacy of the court and have been reluctant to participate. The few that want to have largely been shut out. Human-rights groups are calling for a United Nations tribunal. President Bush wants the death penalty. The arguments over the court are depressingly familiar rehearsals of the arguments over the war itself, as if no one could bear to enter the next stage of Iraqi history.
The Iraqis have every right to insist on judging their tormentor themselves and, with a great deal of international (and not only American) help, they are capable of doing it. But the sudden convergence of American and Iraqi interests in speed raises the risk that the proceedings will be a shortcut to execution rather than a demonstration of real justice. The trial of Saddam Hussein will involve all Iraqis, just as his rule implicated them all. Kanan Makiya, the writer and longtime opponent of the regime, warned in his book “Cruelty and Silence,” “Whether or not Saddam is still around in person, what he represented lives on inside Iraqi hearts. Herein lies the greatest danger of all for the country’s future.” As Saddam will likely argue in his own defense, some Iraqis (and also foreign governments, including ours) were active collaborators and beneficiaries. Many acquiesced silently; others internalized the Baath Party’s paranoid and violent ideology, or just breathed the dead air of their own lifelong spider hole. Very few resisted without ending up in exile or the grave. The human damage is so great that even justice seems a poor consolation for what Iraqis truly need. This was the sentiment expressed by Mowaffak al-Rubaie, a Governing Council member who was imprisoned and tortured by the regime in 1979. After visiting Saddam in detention, Rubaie said, “He has ruined the whole country. He has ruined twenty-five million people.”
But at least a trial will bring Iraqis face to face with what was done to them and what they became. In this sense, Saddam’s capture represents the opposite of “closure.” “I hate this man to the core of my bones,” an Iraqi engineer told a Times reporter after watching footage of the King of the Arabs submitting to a mouth inspection like a vagrant at a mobile health clinic. “And yet, I can’t tell you why, I feel sorry for him, to be so humiliated. It is as if he and Iraq have become the same thing.” Separating Iraq from Saddam will be far harder than toppling a statue or capturing a fugitive. One way to begin is by resisting the illusion that killing Saddam will cleanse the legacy of Baathist rule, which, after all, was launched with televised trials and public hangings.