December 17, 2003 | Scripps Howard News Service

Giovedì (Translation)

Last week's arrest of Saddam Hussein has created a fundamental question: Where will he be tried?  The implications of the answer will be incredibly important for both international law and the future of international institutions like the U.N. >From my point of view as an American, it would seem that within 10 years, given the context of the war on terror, U.N.-spawned tribunals simply will not have any place in the world.  The tribunal dealing with Slobodan Milosevic at the Hague, for example, continues today; the American Democratic party presidential candidate Wesley Clark testified there last week. Notwithstanding the huge amount of evidence and testimony against Milosevic, his trial continues today after more than enough years have passed. The focus of his trial today, unfortunately, is more political than judicial.

Milosevic decided at the beginning of his trial to defend himself instead of hiring a lawyer. This decision, which is a right of his, allowed Milosevic to accuse assorted members of his own government, soldiers from NATO member-states, and officials of other governments of being responsible for the killings in Yugoslavia.   It is easy, given this, to explain the slowness of the trial.  The fact that an ex-dictator, a murderer, can make these sorts of accusations in the middle of an international tribunal is a tragedy. It is disgusting and something that no participating government should be proud of.

Milosevic's actions in the midst of his trial don't constitute justice; they constitute what we in the United States call a kangaroo court; that is to say an almost fake trial, one which is above all ridiculous.  His actions make us wonder about his mental state; if he really understands what he has done, if he understands the value of a life, if he understands one can't do the kinds of things he did in this world, etc.

It seems to me that the reality of the situation is that Milosevic, like Hussein, will never understand the implications of his actions. Milosevic doesn't want to believe or accept that it was he who was responsible for the deaths of thousands. He doesn't want to believe or accept that it was he who was responsible for the destruction of a nation and culture.

The rhetoric from Schroeder and Chirac regarding Hussein will begin soon.  I am also sure that a legitimate tribunal in their eyes, will never be found in Iraq. The tribunal, they will say, must be in the Hague. Period.

I don't want to diminish the importance of other trials that have taken place at the Hague but given the similarities between Milosevic and Husein, I'm convinced that a trial in Baghdad, instead of the Hague, would be invaluable for the Iraqi people.  The process of democratization is long and difficult. As was seen after the fall of the Soviet Union and in various Latin American nations like Argentina, a nation's ability to have a judicial system free from corruption that is deeply interlinked with other elements of government to ensure its legitimacy is vitally important.   A true democracy can't survive without this critical element.

Iraq under Saddam had a fake judicial system. Justice as we know it didn't exist.  A trial in Baghdad would have many positive implications:

1. It would bring more legitimacy to the new Iraqi judicial system, particularly in the eyes of the international community. If one sees on TV that the Iraqis are able to take care of themselves in the context of a judicial system, more world governments would be willing to contribute to the success of a new independent Iraq.

2. It would bring more legitimacy to alliances formed outside the U.N., alliances formed that are dedicated to combating terrorism for the welfare of the world.

3. It would be a victory for the Iraqi people. After so many years of desperation and horror, they will be able to begin to have a sense of justice in their lives. They will be able to begin to contend in a peaceful way with the pain of the past. They will be able to continue with new energy in the reconstruction of their nation.

4. A trial in Baghdad would be much more personal for the Iraqi people. It would be a product of their energy, their ability to think, and their courage in confronting this murderer. I think that this trial MUST be personal for Iraqis; for their well-being, and for their future. They must now find out that it will be them, not a dictator that will determine their future.

5. There will be no place for messing around, as in Milosevic's trial. I am convinced that a trial in Baghdad would not permit accusations from Saddam's mouth. The trial would be quick, fair, and invaluable for Iraqi history.

We will soon see where Saddam's trial will take place. Regardless of the outcome, the implications will be critical in determining the fate of international law, the U.N., alliances such as the Coalition of the Willing, and dictators everywhere.

Austen Givens is a fourth-year student at the University of Virginia in the United States and a collaborator with the Foundation for the Defense of Democarcies, a private research organization on international terrorism based in Washington, D.C.