Everybody is assuming that Saddam will get a Nuremburg-style trial. Everybody also seems to assume that it will go well for the “prosecution” and end without too much hassle in Saddam’s execution. See, for example, Eliot Cohen’s piece from today’s WSJ. (subscription required.)
I worry. Recall the performance of Hermann Goering at Nuremburg. Prison agreed with Goering. He dried out of his morphine addiction, he lost a ton of weight and he came out swinging. The fat, effeminate junkie was gone, the street-fighter, the air ace, the ruthless bastard who had clawed his way to the top of the Third Reich was back in the game. U.S. Supreme Court Justice Robert Jackson cross-examined Goering, and it is generally acknowledged that Goering kicked his ass, with a combination of unrepentant pugnacity, an avalanche of irrelevant and self-serving facts, and open contempt for his interrogator and the whole proceeding. Then, he even cheated the hangman, by taking cyanide he had hidden in a dental filling.
William Safire seems to be thinking along the same lines.“[Saddam] is looking forward to the mother of all genocide trials, rivaling Nuremberg’s and topping those of Eichmann and Milosevic. There, in the global spotlight, he can pose as the great Arab hero saving Islam from the Bushes and the Jews.” Saddam didn’t go down fighting with bullets because he wants to go into history fighting with rhetoric. He may actually have the initiative and be executing his own end-game. Like Goering, Saddam was once a tough bastard and a survivor, a man who was willing to kill people with his own gun or his own hands in cold blood if it served his interests to do so. Saddam may still have a lot of fight in him. (Plus, as Wretchard of the always brilliant Belmont Club points out Saddam holds a valuable bargaining card — information: about the location of caches of money, about WMD, about other Ba’athist still fighting us, which he may hope will lead to a deal that spares his life.)
And Saddam is going to have allies and supporters to help him. Watch what is going to happen now. The French, the Left, the ACLU and everybody of that ilk are now going to make Saddam their darling, their hero, a man denied due process, a man being railroaded. French lawyers will try to go to Baghdad to represent him. American lawyers will argue that he should immediately be brought to the Hague. He will be the new Mummia. Even the way he looked when he got captured will help him with the Left — he looked like a cross between a homeless person, Karl Marx and Che Guevarra, all icons of holiness to those people, images which touch the deepest wellsprings of their sentiments. And anybody who is fighting the American army starts to look like a “resistance fighter” like the Sandinistas or the Viet Cong, and hence a heroic figure to the Left. Moreover, anybody who is Bush’s enemy must be OK. This is going to lead to more and more grotesque configurations. It is going to get really weird. (This is all consistent with Wretchard’s insightful thesis that with the demise of communism, Islamic extremism is going to merge with the activist Left, and become its most dynamic element. Watch Saddam in court. He is going to play up the “Islamic” element big time, even though he may have killed more Muslims than any other single leader in history.)
And I don’t put it past Bremer and his crew to seriously botch this whole thing. It occurs to me that the civilian management team over there might not even have a plan in place at all to handle a live capture. That would be consistent with much of the reconstruction effort so far, where every major decision, other than the actual combat operations, seems to have been made on the fly. This may be yet one more half-assed extemporization. It is not good to under-estimate an enemy, especially someone like Saddam, who is going to try to extract the maximum vengeance on his opponents before his corpse is flung onto the trash heap of history.
UPDATE: Holy crap. Even National Review is already talking about an “international tribunal” for Saddam. I say, put him in a room, bound with rope, with duct tape over his mouth. Have a stream of Iraqis whose relatives were murdered come in, scream obscenities at him and spit on him, then, after a few hours, have an Iraqi “judge” say, “the sentence is death”, then have an Iraqi firing squad kill him. I’d like this to be done by next Saturday. The longer it drags on and the more lawyers get involved, the more of a mess it is going to be. And I’m a lawyer myself. This is about politics, it is not about law, and the less lawyering occurs, the better. But it looks like the lawyers have glommed onto this thing, and I bet Saddam is still alive and well in a year, while the “procedures” grind away.
UPDATE II: This early report (via Drudge) states that Saddam is a “broken man” who has provided intelligence to the US, even that he “felt safer” with the Americans. This may be true, which cuts against the Goering scenario. Or it could be disinformation to dishearten his remaining followers. I hope it’s true, that Saddam is just a beaten down old man who will go sullenly to the noose, without any surprises or fireworks. That would be the best-case scenario. But then there’s this, saying he’s defiant. I hope our people can extract a large quantity of useful intelligence out of him before he is turned over to the Iraqis for “trial” and execution. We should promise him some kind of life sentence if he spills his guts, then renege. In the immortal words of Richard Nixon, “You cut a deal. Cut a deal, then screw ’em.”
I was very disappointed to see Bush say that Saddam would get “a fair trial”. I don’t want our enemies to think they will get, or are entitled to, a “fair trial”. I want them to think they will get swift, unannounced and violent death. Bush is way too much of a liberal, way too nice.