Monday, January 01, 2007

No mourning, but no false sense of justice

Today I read, and then re-read, Jim's post about Saddam Hussein, trying to work out what I thought of it. In the first instance I couldn't make head nor tail of it, but then it occurred to me that this was perhaps because he hadn't realised what he was really saying either. And it's because of the road that I think his post was going down, that I decided to write this reply.

Where I do agree with Jim, is that I have absolutely no sense of upset at the death of a man who, at the end of the day, was a fascist and a tyrant. I also share his sense of distaste at much of the left's slippage (the example Jim cites being merely one of the most obnoxious) into old-style Stalinist "anti-imperialist" rhetoric, feigning anger and trying to foster a sense of injustice at the execution, whilst bridling when people point out that this line taken to its logical conclusion would seem to suggest some sense of solidarity with the man. By the same logic, people could call for an "anti-imperialist" defence of any tyrant, anywhere, no matter how vile or foul, just as long as that person ticked the single qualifying box of being involved in a military conflict with the USA. That sort of kindergarten politics may satisfy some people, but most of us outgrew it after the first year of higher education.

He then offers five reasons why the conduct of the trial and execution were a bad thing - all of which are true. So yes, insofar as that goes, I agree with him. But he then goes farther than that.
The sticky point comes here:

"Finally, there's the old 'victor's justice' argument. It's true that Saddam's trial and execution are 'victor's justice'. As were the Nuremburg trials... perhaps 'victor's justice' is better than no justice at all."

It seems to me that the entire argument, from that phrase onwards, effectively refutes everything that went before it. Effectively having a line of "the trial was bollocks and the execution makes things worse, but then on the other hand it was better than it could have been", equates to de facto critical support for the process, it seems to me. The comparison with Nuremberg (and therefore of Hussein's position to that of Goering and the other Nazi high-ups who stood trial), merely goes to reinforce that impression. It seems to me that we need to unpack things here.

Firstly, yes Hussein was a fascist. Here I agree with Jim and disagree with other left-wingers such as Louisefeminista from Stroppyblog who (she's free to disagree with me and undoubtedly will!) it seems to me is using a rather overly rigid definition of the term in order to hold the line that it's not appropriate to apply it to Saddam.

Secondly, that particular semantic debate aside (fascist or not, he was a tyrant responsible for the deaths of thousands of his own people), I genuinely don't give a toss that he's dead.

However, that doesn't detract from the truth that the execution and the show-trial that led to it were no kind of "justice" (victor's or otherwise) that anyone tackling the concept seriously, would recognise. A trial where the judges get repeatedly fired, lawyers assasinated and where the whole thing relies on the muscle of an occupying foreign power, is no sort of fair trial at all. Saddam should have been tried - in the Hague, at the International War Crimes Tribunal, or at least under the auspices of some body or other that inspires more confidence than a government dominated by SCIRI and Sadrist religious sectarians, backed up (albeit fractiously) by US military muscle. The revelations in the press today about the "executioners" chanting Sadrist slogans and mocking as the man died, just makes the whole thing look more sordid than it already did.

As to comparisons with Nuremberg, the whole set of circumstances leading to the trials after World War Two, were about as different as they could be from those leading to the arrest of Saddam Hussein. The Nuremberg trials were set up in the aftermath of a world war, by powers that had won after losing quite literally millions of their own citizens in what would become (regardless of the circumstances of the war's start) a desperate war against a global fascist military alliance which threatened the continued existence of nations the world over. Furthermore, those trials came in the immediate aftermath of the Holocaust, a crime historically unique in both its scope and in the scale of the horrors which it brought into being.

There is also the obvious implication that a comparison with Nuremberg (a process which no-one outside of the far right fringe would make a point of criticising) somehow legtimates the process by which Saddam Hussein was tried; indeed, that is one of the points where Jim contradicts himself - "It was illegitimate, but it was just like Nuremberg so that's OK". What, Nuremberg was illegitimate? Or illegitimate trials are OK? The point eludes me.

Jim goes on to quote one Professor Fouad Ajami, whom he neglects to mention is both a former advisor to Condoleeza Rice, and a friend and former colleague of Paul Wolfowitz, as though his statements offer some kind of added authority. He is careful to mention, correctly, that Ajami "probably supported the war", whereas Jim didn't. Ajami's increasingly right-wing political tangent has in fact come in for serious criticism from some quarters. Nevertheless, Jim thinks that the sentiments contained in the quote are valid. Highlights from it run thus:

"If it took a foriegn war to bring about this justice, and to introduce into Arab politics the principle of politcal accountability, so be it... Nuremburg, too, was victor's justice. The Iraqis who endured the tyranny while the world averted its gaze from their suffering are owed their moment of satisfaction"

Quite how one could come to the conclusion that endorsing such a statement is compatible with Jim's claims to have "serious misgivings" (as I do) about the trial process, leaves me simply mystified.

Jim, if your stance is essentially to support the execution then I really think you should spell that out, rather than tip-toeing around the issue. Furthermore, I think you need to call into question just how far your endorsement of statements like the one above from Ajami, is actually compatible with an anti-war stance at all.

The floor is yours.


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