Monday, April 24, 2006

The ultimate mob trial

While watching re-runs of The Sopranos, I reflected briefly on the nature of organized crime. Very few leaders of La Cosa Nostra die old or rich, and even fewer die old, rich, and in charge.

So it is with the world's dictators. The trial of Saddam Hussein in Baghdad resembles, at least superficially, the trial of a gangland boss. There are the kickbacks, internal power struggles, and worst of all, the inevitable incriminating tapes chock full of damning evidence. Part of what made Saddam's Iraq so dangerous is that his family ran the country like an organized crime cartel, and like the mafioso of old, Saddam has run out of options. Saddam was so brazen that he made absolutely no attempts to cover up his brutality, insisting that his authority as President of Iraq granted absolute impunity. As such, there are tens of thousands of hours of tapes, warehouses full of documents, and tens of thousands of material witnesses to help indict Saddam Hussein. If each evil act of Saddam's rule were brought under seperate indictments, his trial would likely last for a thousand years. Thankfully, the prosecutors are bringing on indictments singly at first, knowing that if they fail to convict on the Dujail massacre, they can move on the poison gas attack on Halabja until they get their man. Saddam authorized (and in many cases, performed with his own hands) acts that caused an impressive number of Germans to go to the gallows 60 years ago.

Unlike the pathetic "international war crimes tribunal" that ineptly set out to prosecute the late Yugoslav dictator Slobodan Milosevic, the Iraqi authorities have wisely decided to deal with Saddam themselves - in house. Given that Saddam's brutality and capriciousness were extreme, even in the context of a Middle Eastern absolute dictatorship, the government Iraq is either to be lauded (or ridiculed) for their dogged insistence on giving Saddam a fair trial before sending him to the gallows - especially given that most Iraqis have vivid memories of what the Iraqi justice system was like during Saddam's rule.

Will Saddam be hung? Shot? Die of old age during his trial? I don't know, but I do take enormous satisfaction that another capo di tutti capi won't be dying rich, comfortable or free.

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