Politics & Policy

Justice Served

Saddam Hussein's verdict.

On Sunday, Saddam Hussein was sentenced to death by an Iraqi court for crimes against humanity. National Review Online asked a group of experts to weigh in on the significance of the development — for Iraq and for the United States.

Peter Brookes

While Saddam Hussein’s trial is a clear victory for the Iraqi people, its implications will reverberate far beyond Iraq. You can’t help but think about how the likes of North Korea’s Kim Jong Il, Iran’s senior clerics, Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe, Belarus’ Alexandr Lukashenka, Cuba’s Castro brothers, the Burmese junta, and other repressive leaders and regimes must be feeling today, watching one of their kindred spirits get the death sentence in Iraq — with the full realization that someday they may share his fate in the courtroom and the gallows.

Peter Brookes is senior fellow at the Heritage Foundation. He is author of A Devil’s Triangle: Terrorism, WMD and Rogue States.

Newt Gingrich

There are four key lessons to be learned from Saddam Hussein’s conviction and the death penalty he was correctly given.

First, the Iraqi people are far better off today under the rule of law than under the rule of a dictator who killed at least 300,000 of his own people.

Second, we were right to replace this evil man in order to give the Iraq people the chance to work and fight toward building a self-governing nation.

Third, it sends a warning to every other dictator on the planet from Kim Jung Il in North Korea to Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in Iran to the head of the Sudanese dictatorship: When you kill, torture, and destroy your own people, don’t be surprised that when given the chance, your people in turn destroy you.

Fourth and finally, it should teach us all one more lesson about the current destructive nature of the United Nations that having failed to protect the Iraqi people from Saddam, they immediately had their high commissioner talk about saving Saddam from the penalty chosen for him by an Iraqi court — death.

— Newt Gingrich, a former speaker of the House, is a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute and author of Winning the Future: A 21st Century Contract with America.

Victor Davis Hanson

Saddam’s trial, despite the criticisms, is very significant. When in the history of the Middle East has a democratically elected government held public trials, with an independent judiciary, to call to account a former head of state for crimes? Saddam was not tortured and did not mysteriously disappear; nor did he drop dead in mediis rebus like the Milosevic fiasco at the Hague. He and his cronies were rounded up — unlike the European failure even to find Gen. Mladic and Radovan Karadzic — tried and convicted. And where else would a shyster like Ramsey Clark be allowed in to pontificate and to cause petty distractions with impunity?

What we are seeing in Iraq are two simultaneous phenomena: an insurgency that is entirely nihilistic, offers no agenda, and exists only through the complacency of a Sunni minority that resents bitterly democratic politics that for the first time allot them power only commensurate with their numbers; and a democratic process that is reaffirmed through three plebiscites, conducts public trials, and is still supported by the vast majority of the population.

Small numbers of zealots can, of course, as was true in 1917, 1933, and 1945/6 in Russia, Germany, and China, seize power through public fear or indifference, but so far they have not in Iraq.

So on Saddam I prefer to side with the proclamation of the wise and brave Deputy Prime Minister Salih — “This vindicates the morality of liberation” — rather than the daily hysteria of the ‘fiasco’ herd here at home. Saddam was not killed by the usual Middle East M.O. of assassination, nor did he perish, as he almost did numerous times, by an American GPS bomb, but probably by the most unlikely of fates: a free and public Arab court sentence in a secular court.

Victor Davis Hanson is a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution. He is the author, most recently, of A War Like No Other. How the Athenians and Spartans Fought the Peloponnesian War.

Clifford D. May

Upon being sentenced to death, Saddam Hussein played to both his key constituencies. Militant Islamists heard him shout: “Allahu Akbar!” (“God is Greatest.”). For the benefit of his Baathist followers, he added: “Long live the glorious nation!”

One might have expected that Saddam’s conviction would have been an occasion for the media to remind people of his crimes and cruelty. But if the major media this weekend were featuring footage of Saddam’s mass graves and rape rooms, if they were conducting interviews with innocent Iraqis whose arms and ears he ordered amputated, or survivors of his poison gas attacks, I missed it.

In any event, there was something anti-climactic about a jury now, finally, coming to the conclusion that Saddam was indeed a mass murderer. Perhaps that’s because the trial has dragged on so long (about as long as World War II, no?) and because it became such a circus, with Saddam blowing whistles and cracking whips in the center ring.

There also is the hard fact that Saddam’s defeat remains incomplete. His legacy endures in the violence televised nightly on Baghdad’s streets. Day after day, innocent Iraqis are slaughtered, as are Americans attempting to defend them. A growing body of opinion responds by demanding that America abandon Iraq to those dispatching the killers.

For these and other reasons, I’d be surprised if Saddam’s conviction has a discernable impact at the polls on Tuesday. Minds will be changed when it becomes clear that America has the will and the means to defend itself and defeat its enemies; or when it becomes apparent that America is no longer equal to such a task.

– Clifford D. May is the president of the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies .

Andy McCarthy

Unfortunately, the pronouncement (as opposed to the execution) of the death sentence for Saddam Hussein will have negligible impact on the current situation in Iraq. It is significant for the war, but it will have no effect on the U.S. elections.

The crucial thing would be Saddam’s execution. That would put him forever out of commission — including in the eyes of Baathist insurgents who harbor dreams of a comeback. But we are a long way from execution. The verdict was widely expected, and all it means for now is that appeals automatically begin. Even if unsuccessful, those appeals will go on for many, many months. Iraq is deteriorating now — it may not have many, many months. As long as Saddam lives, he maintains the same importance to the insurgency, whether he’s convicted or not.

Plus, to the extent we are told that the new government’s main challenge is the inclusion of wary Sunnis and allegedly rehabilitated Baathists, the death sentence has already occasioned rhetoric from Maliki (“the martyrs of Iraq now have a right to smile”) which is sure to remind Sunnis that the prime minister is a longtime Shiite activist whose first role in the new regime was to purge Baathists. As expected, the announcement of the verdict instantly prompted fighting in some Sunni areas. That’s not encouraging, though it shouldn’t be overstated since the insurgents need no excuses to rabble-rouse.

– Andrew C. McCarthy, a former federal prosecutor, is a senior fellow at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies.

James S. Robbins

Let’s not get too excited about Saddam’s sentence. There is an automatic appeal before a nine-judge panel that can take unlimited time to undertake the review. If they uphold the sentence, there is another 30-days maximum before Saddam swings. And that assumes he does not cheat the hangman somehow. Hermann Goering managed it.

– James S. Robbins is senior fellow in national-security affairs at the American Foreign Policy Council , a trustee for the Leaders for Liberty Foundation, and author of Last in Their Class: Custer, Picket and the Goats of West Point . Robbins is also an NRO contributor.

Bill Roggio

This is an important, symbolic victory for the government and people of Iraq. Despite the shortcomings of the Iraqi government and the security problems that continue to plague the country, the judicial process persevered through threats, assassinations, and a bloody insurgency to convict a murderous dictator who slaughtered Sunnis, Shiites and Kurds alike. Saddam should be executed immediately to close this chapter in Iraq’s bloody history. With this verdict, the tribal blood feuds across Iraq against Saddam will be closed, the Baathist fantasy of Saddam’s return to power has been crushed, and the conspiracy theories indicating that the U.S. was going to return Saddam to power have been silenced.

Regardless of whether one agrees with the current presence of American troops in Iraq, the American public should remember that the removal of Saddam and his brutal regime was the right thing to do. After 9/11, Saddam was the only world leader that openly praised al Qaeda’s mass murder of American citizens. He threatened his neighbors, constantly attacked U.S. forces enforcing the U.N.-sanctioned no-fly zone, violated the terms of the Gulf War ceasefire, and despite reporting to the contrary, clandestinely pursued weapons of mass destruction programs.

Today, Iraq has a far bigger problem than Saddam Hussein. Saddam’s bloodthirsty successors — al Qaeda, Muqtada al-Sadr’s death squads and recalcitrant Sunni insurgents – are trying to tear the country apart by turning the Iraqi people against one another. To abandon the country now would sentence the Iraqi people to a real civil war. Today’s fighting would be child’s play by comparison.

– Bill Roggio is an independent civilian military blogger. He served in the Army from 1991 to 1995. He blogs at billroggio.com.

Michael Rubin

The verdict against Saddam is a good thing, but anti-climactic. For most Iraqis, the era of Saddam has passed. Their problems are different now. The trial was about process. I’m not so worried about mass outbreaks of violence. Pretty much all Iraqis — including Saddam’s allies — acknowledge his faults. Saddam is more popular on the streets of Cairo and Paris than he is in Baghdad or Basra. Sure, some Iraqis will take advantage of his execution to manipulate the Western media or pursue their own agendas through violence, but most Iraqis have already moved on. Many unrepentant Baathists blame Saddam for their downfall, the way many unreformed communists blame Mikhail Gorbachev for the end of the Soviet Union. Saddam’s execution will not damper the insurgency. Too many Iraqis still aspire to be the new Saddam, and Washington has already telegraphed that it makes concessions to violence. Still, Saddam’s accountability is important not only for Iraq but also for the wider region. Other Middle Eastern dictators should take note. Within Iraq, Saddam’s date with the hangman should raise other questions. Iraqi Sunni Arabs would be right to ask if Muqtada al-Sadr and Abdulaziz Hakim will be held accountable for ongoing atrocities. So too should insurgent leaders who target Iraqi school children. In Iraqi Kurdistan, human-rights activists already ask why Kurdish leaders should not reveal their role in the disappearance of 3,000 Kurds–many of them civilians snatched off the street — during the 1994-1997 Kurdish civil war.

Iraqis should be applauded. Many international organizations said that they would be incapable of a trial. Human Rights Watch played political football with Iraqi victims when they threatened to withhold evidence they had gathered in Iraq after 1991 unless the tribunal agreed to renounce capital punishment. But the Iraqis persevered. The trial may have been chaotic, but that it was an Iraqi trial was important. The tribunal was about justice, not providing a cashcow to NGOs or an excuse for the U.N. to dispense six figure salaries and benefit packages as patronage.

So is there a U.S. angle? George W. Bush should make no apologies for ridding the world of two of the most atrocious regimes. While previous administrations talked, Bush put words into action. It is a tragedy that Saddam is facing the hangman only in 2006 rather than 1976. Still, it would be as wrong for the Republicans to use Iraq as a political football as it is for the Democrats who do so. Americans are wise enough to make their own judgments. Dignity requires the White House to remain silent.

– Michael Rubin is a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute.

Michael Yon

Justice grinded slowly in the case of Saddam Hussein. For decades this evil man murdered, tortured, and stole from innocent people. He used poison gas on his own people, and on the Iranians. He caused wars. He invaded his small but successful neighbor, Kuwait, and there murdered and tortured again. He threatened other successful nations with the same. When a large Coalition of nations ejected his army from Kuwait, Saddam Hussein threatened the fabric of life on earth by using oil as a weapon of mass destruction. He set that oil ablaze, poisoning the air, and he poisoned the waters of the Arabian Gulf causing an “ecological genocide.” He cared nothing of life of any sort, from fish to birds to humans, he poisoned them all. Murder was his sport, torture was his joy, and deception and power were his passions. And for these things, the people Saddam Hussein previously tortured and brutalized have sentenced him to hang by the neck. Iraq now belongs to Iraq. The future of Iraq depends on Iraqis. Iraqis can take their new freedom and use it as they wish.

– Michael Yon blogs at michaelyon-online.com.

NR SymposiumNational Review symposia are discussions featuring contributors to and friends of the magazine.