TCS Daily

Don't Try Saddam

By James D. Miller - December 30, 2003 12:00 AM

Saddam Hussein doesn't deserve a trial, and giving him one would pervert justice.

Saddam will never go free. It's politically inconceivable that the U.S. would ever accept a final "not guilty" verdict on Saddam. Therefore, giving Saddam some sham trial would contaminate justice and set a horrible precedent for the Iraqis.


You might think that under any fair trial arrangement Saddam would be found guilty, but this isn't necessarily so. I suspect that at least 5% of the Iraqi population supports Saddam. Fairness would require that the members of the jury or tribunal judging Saddam couldn't be people who have previously proved their hatred of him. Consequently, there will always be some chance that all the people selected to try Saddam will support his going free. Of course, you could say that an innocent verdict necessarily means that the trial wasn't fair, but this reasoning rather negates the purpose of having a trial.


To eliminate any chance of Saddam going free, the U.S. will either pick members of the judging tribunal who will definitely find Saddam guilty or be prepared to keep trying Saddam in different forums until one rules against him. Either tactic would harm the cause of justice more than simply declaring to the world that Saddam doesn't deserve a fair trial and will be punished for his crimes.


President Bush should announce that the essence of a trial is the right to be tried by an impartial jury or judge. Since Saddam has killed, raped and gassed so many Iraqis, he can't possibly get a fair trial in Iraq. But rather than setting a horrible precedent by giving Saddam a biased judge or jury, or depriving the Iraqis of the right to punish Saddam, the U.S. and the Iraqi people will politically decide what punishment Saddam will receive after airing his sins.


Although Saddam couldn't win a sham trial, he could hire a public relations lawyer who would use the event to improve Saddam's image among the jihad loving social set. Since our war on terror isn't yet won, we shouldn't give our enemies free propaganda.


Besides denying Saddam a trial, we should also deprive him of the right to remain silent. The U.S. Constitution gives Americans the right not to incriminate ourselves so the state can't coerce us into making false confessions. But since we will punish Saddam regardless of what he says, why not use coercion to force him to talk? Surely drugs and physical intimidation would get him to reveal more information that could save lives. Why should we shrink from causing Saddam some pain if it would save American lives? Of course, if we are determined to give Saddam a trial, we will no doubt be extremely careful not to mistreat him so we wouldn't be embarrassed by evidence of such abuse at his trial. Saddam, therefore, might end up with better treatment than American criminals.


Moammar Qaddafi recently agreed to give up Libya's weapons of mass destruction program in part because he feared Saddam's fate. Surely, the greater discomfort we cause Saddam, the more narcissistic dictators will fear getting into conflicts with the United States. Consequently, imposing physical hardships on Saddam might do much to pressure other dictators into relinquishing their support for terrorism. American soldiers are willing to suffer any hardship to win the war against terrorism. But many of our enemy leaders care far more about themselves than any cause. Therefore, to apply maximum pressure on them, we should use Saddam to show dictators the high personal cost of fighting the U.S.


James D. Miller writes The Game Theorist column for TCS and is the author of Game Theory at Work.



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