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previous: Love Hippie The real question is what to do wit... -- 12/17/2003 4:19 AM View Thread

Re: "Iraqi Involvement"?!

12/18/2003 3:12 PM
Mark Hammer
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Re: "Iraqi Involvement"?!
What is the purpose of a trial?  
 
Fundamentally, it is to make things right, either right again or righter than they have previously been. For some folks, making things right consists primarily of revenge or punishment or some sort of catharsis. For others it consists of restitution in whatever form that takes. Identification of liability and responsibilities is basic to each.  
 
In other respects, "making things right" consists of prevention. That prevention can come in the form of removal of a harmful element. That removal can come in the form of detention purely for the purposes of seclusion, detention for the purposes of rehabilitation, capital punishment, identification of contextual causes (which is usually what coroners' inquests or state-sponsored commissions of inquiry attempt to do), or in other counter-intuitive ways, such as healing circles where perpetrators are obliged to confront their victims and community and recognize the consequences of their actions. That prevention can also come in the form of example-setting. Indeed, most judges would probably tell you that every judgment has at least the partial goal of fostering trust in the judicial process. I don't know that it does so in every case, but judges are the first to realize that if people don't believe in the trial process and the goal portrayed in the classic statue of the blindfolded person holding the scales, the whole thing falls apart. The entire process rests on its perceived legitimacy.  
 
All of these, and other, purposes and functions commonly compete with each other in any trial that takes place in modern democratic natons. It is never really all that easy to balance out each of the motives since each of them is valued a little more than the others by different elements of society.  
 
In the case of Saddam Hussein, there is most assuredly a certain element that view his trial as an opportunity for vengeance and "getting what he deserves". For it to NOT end in that, in their eyes, makes the justice process illegitimate, and that creates problems. I understand that view. There is also a constituency who would take the view that anything which results in capital punishment is fundamentally a flawed and illegitimate process. I understand that view too, though I'm not so sure how much I agree with each. Unfortunately, neither of those factions is so small that one can afford to piss either off and treat it as an acceptable loss.  
 
On top of that, there are the constituencies defined by speed. Some folks want a fast trial process, and anything too slow, regardless of how it turns out, is seen as ignoring the obvious, hence illegitimate on those grounds. To them, every day this guy is alive is justice denied. Others, of course, want every single detail of misery to be publically declared, and anything too hasty doesn't, in their eyes, do "justice" because it seems to sweep all but a few select crimes under the rug. It's a bit like being pistol-whipped during a hold-up and finding out that your beating never comes up at the trial because the monetary aspect of the theft is sufficient to put the perpetrator away for the maximum time. Hey, wait a second, that guy beat the CRAP out of me! Don't I matter? Big sentence, maybe, but little sense of resolution or validation, hence no justice.  
 
Of course, those four broadly-defined constituencies revolve largely around the revenge theme. There are other interests at play which are more of the restorative and prophylactic variety. For instance, how the heck did the guy manage to do what he did with respect to playing ball with suicide bombers elsewhere? Through what sort of channels does a regime like this manage to acquire an arsenal, and what can be done to plug up those holes? Where the hell is the money? Where are all those folks that disappeared? What can foreign policy of other nations do to prevent such things from happening again? And so on, and so on. To the extent that any trial process is curt, and ends in death, it represents one very big missed opportunity. Not only in terms of dredging up useful information, but also in terms of persuading that very large group of people that their affiliation with the Baathists and Saddam was, in hindsight, a very poor choice on their part. In the end, Saddam should not be protected, but if he becomes a martyr to anyone then it will have done more harm than good.  
 
In the end, it is not so much about having a "fair" trial, since there can be little consensus on that, no matter how hard folks try or how much wisdom is applied. What there can be is a trial that attempts to achieve as many of the objectives of ideal trials as are achievable under the circumstances. I'm not saying this because I'm jaded or deluded. I'm saying this because it's complicated, largely by its publicness.

 
Replies:
Anony-Mousse Mark Hammer, Wow. Give... -- 12/18/2003 7:29 PM