The Saddam Hussein verdict is about to come down, so it’s naturally time for the L.A. Times to cast doubt on the legitimacy of the court that tried him. The story is titled 1st Hussein trial ending amid doubts, with a deck headline that reads, “Today’s verdict could send the former Iraqi leader to death. But questions persist about the court’s fairness.”
The story doesn’t really provide any hard evidence that the court has been illegitimate. To the contrary, there is a clear contrast between “justice” under Hussein, in which 148 “defendants” were “sentenced” to death in two weeks — and this trial, which has featured extensive procedural protections, to the point that it has dragged on so long that the world can now snidely comment that the timing is designed to affect U.S. elections.
Rather, the story relies on the criticism of unnamed “international legal experts” as well as snide comments like this one:
The prosecutors remained in the orderly world of the heavily fortified multistory courthouse here. They focused on the 130 witnesses who gave written and spoken testimony and painstakingly compiled documentary evidence over 40 sessions, as if strict adherence to legal formulas could wash away questions about the legitimacy of a court set up under formal U.S. occupation.
But then there’s “balance”:
The defense tried to broaden the scope of the trial, playing for the cameras and pan-Arab television with politically charged statements about the U.S. role in Iraq and recent Middle East history, as if questions about the court’s legitimacy could cleanse the mountain of evidence implicating Hussein in the horrific treatment of civilians.
Nah. The defense’s spurious questions about the court’s legimimacy can’t erase the evidence of Hussein’s guilt, which (as the story notes) the defense hasn’t really tried to contest.
But they can cause biased U.S. newspapers to give prominence to phantom “doubts” about the court’s neutrality.
And that’s pretty good, isn’t it?
UPDATE: The Washington Post finds an “expert” to explain some of the horrible shortcomings of the trial:
The trial’s chief judge resigned midway through the proceedings, complaining that Shiite and Kurdish political leaders and officials were pressuring him for being too easy on Hussein. The judge in line to succeed him was blocked by Shiite officials because he had been a member of Hussein’s Baath Party. Such intervention “constitutes improper political interference and undermining of the political independence of the court,” [Human Rights Watch international justice program Richard] Dicker said.
Right. Just like, if they hadn’t allowed a Nazi judge to preside at Nuremberg, that would have been an outrageous interference with the proceedings. How could you trust any verdict rendered as to a Nazi, if a Nazi doesn’t get to preside? And how can you trust any verdict against Hussein, if a Baathist doesn’t get to preside?
Those Human Rights Watch guys . . . they are brilliant. They have common sense to spare!
UPDATE x3: The L.A. Times story about the verdict is a modified version of the story criticized in this post, and (unsurprisingly) manages to work the “doubts” spin into its lede. More about that in a new post.